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National Govt & Politics
Florida students quietly lobby lawmakers in Congress on gun control, school safety
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Florida students quietly lobby lawmakers in Congress on gun control, school safety

Florida students quietly lobby lawmakers in Congress on gun control, school safety
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Florida students quietly lobby lawmakers in Congress on gun control, school safety

In the aftermath of the recent mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, some students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School quickly became household names, appearing on radio and television, demanding votes on gun control measures in the Congress, as they earned strong support - as well as stern criticism - over their call for action.

But when a group of students from the school arrived on Capitol Hill this week, they stayed far below the radar, shunning the spotlight, choosing to stay away from television cameras and reporters, as they took their message of change to members of both parties.

"They've been invisible," one producer from a major television network told me, as up in the press galleries of the Capitol, some of my fellow reporters were frankly a bit amazed that the kids had managed to go around Capitol Hill for two days without drawing much in the way of media attention.

From what reporters were told, that was the plan - stay away from the press, and focus on meetings with lawmakers, where they could deliver their message on what should happen after the mass shooting that killed 17 people earlier this month.

No news conferences.

No rallies.

No photo opportunities with lawmakers.

No scenes of photographers and reporters jockeying for position. No rush for live interviews on the cable networks.

It could have been a media circus - if the students wanted one. But they obviously did not.

"I only heard about their meetings after they happened," one colleague told me.

Like when this tweet suddenly appeared on Monday from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Asked about possible coverage of a meeting between one Democrat and the group of students on Tuesday, a press staffer had a simple explanation of why reporters weren't being told about the various meetings in the House and Senate.

"The students had asked us not to advise the meeting to press."

And so, the kids trooped around Capitol Hill on Monday and Tuesday, meeting with top leaders in both parties.

But most of that was seen only because of a photo here and there on social media.

Normally, a meeting like that would have drawn a crowded photo op, with photographers and reporters jockeying for position, or maybe a statement afterwards by those who had met with Speaker Paul Ryan.

But on this lobbying trip for the students, there were no news conferences.

No rallies.

No statements for the TV cameras, which were just down the hall in the Capitol.

Even for their meetings with Florida lawmakers, most of those Congressional offices stayed quiet.

As the students wrapped up their Tuesday visits on Capitol Hill, it didn't seem like their visit had changed the dynamic on how best to deal with gun violence.

But their message had been heard.

"Their pleas were heartfelt, and we had a most constructive conversation," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).

Read More

Local News

  • The University of Georgia Police Department is reporting the arrest of a Georgia Bulldog football player. Jaden Hunter faces misdemeanor charges that include driving with a suspended license and standing/stopping/parking in a prohibited area. Specifics of the arrest were not immediately available.  Hunter, the son of former Bulldog player Brice Hunter, is a rising junior on this year’s team. He played at Westlake High School in Atlanta. The arrest comes as Hunter and his Bulldog teammates are beginning spring football practices. 
  • There is a new commander for the Georgia State Patrol post in Gainesville: the job goes to State Patrol Sergeant Auston Allen. The Habersham County native began his State Patrol career as a GSP dispatcher in 2002, working in Forsyth County.  The Gainesville Post, Georgia State Patrol Post 6, serves Banks, Hall, and White counties. 
  • Crawford County peach farmer Robert Dickey has been named the 2019 Georgia Farmer of the Year. A fourth-generation farmer, Dickey manages approximately 1,000 acres of peaches and 3,000 acres of timberland with the help of his 90-year-old father, Bob Dickey, his wife, Cynde Dickey, and their son and daughter-in-law, Lee and Stacy Dickey. After high school, Dickey’s father encouraged him to pursue a business degree, so Dickey enrolled at the University of Georgia, graduating in 1976 with his bachelor’s degree. However, banking jobs were scarce, so Dickey returned to the farm with a new perspective. “Although I had worked on the farm through my high school and college years, I did not fully appreciate the value and significance of my family’s heritage until I came back full-time,” Dickey said. “There are no words to fully express the feeling of working alongside my father on the land my great-grandfather, and namesake, initially planted in peach trees in 1897.” Dickey has made many changes on the farm while honoring his family’s farm history. When he noticed other peach farmers were planting more acres, and Dickey Farms’ production volume left the farm’s packinghouse sitting underutilized during the season, Dickey began to offer packing services to meet other local farmers’ packing needs and to generate additional income. “When I first started working at the farm, we were packing about 75,000 packages a year,” he said. “This year, we expect to pack around 400,000 half-bushel boxes.” To deal with drought conditions, Dickey invested in irrigation equipment and added lakes, wells and piping which “helped immensely,” he said. Over the past 10 years, the farm transitioned to low-volume drip irrigation from high-volume reels of irrigation hose to increase efficiency and lower the farm’s water and energy use. Peach yields are up and disease pressure is low. The peach trees are still planted in traditional rows, but the areas between the rows are intentionally maintained in sod. This environmentally friendly practice prevents soil erosion, provides traction for farm equipment, adds organic matter to the soil, improves soil moisture and provides habitat for beneficial insects. Following recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Dickey reduces scale on his peach trees by using oil instead of a chemical treatment. The farm engages in crop rotations with a local row crop farmer to improve soil fertility and structure and reduce compaction. Dickey manages the family’s timberland with the help of a registered forester and the Georgia Forestry Commission, and they continue to plant new and improved second- and third-generation loblolly pine seedlings. “Dickey Farms is deliberate in our planting of wildlife habitats,” Dickey said. “Although we don’t want deer and other animals in our (orchards), we welcome wildlife in our forests and timber areas. Hunting and fishing leases are an important part of our farm.” The farm business recycles all of its cardboard, newspapers, plastic and glass through the local recycling center and makes a point to also recycle all pesticide containers, oil and tires. Dickey’s father continues to be a part of the farm business. “He’s the farm’s biggest cheerleader, encourager and mentor for both me and my son,” Dickey said. “His memory is amazing, and he has witnessed some of the biggest changes in the industry.” Dickey has taken the farm into new areas with ideas from his children and insight from his wife, Cynde Dickey, the farm’s chief financial officer. She was instrumental in starting the farm’s retail business and mail-order operation, which began 25 years ago. “She realized how much friends and families who no longer live in Georgia would love to have our juicy Georgia peaches arrive at their doorstep,” Dickey said. “Our retail operation has increased dramatically over the last five years as customers realize the value of purchasing their peaches and produce straight from the grower. The sales are steadily increasing in our non-peach production months and our ice cream is famous in these parts.” Dickey’s peach crop is marketed through the Genuine Georgia Group, a sales and marketing team with an interest and deep roots in the peach business. “This gives them a deeper understanding of production, quality, harvesting and marketing concerns,” Dickey said. “We want our peaches to be known as Georgia peaches — the sweetest peaches in the country.” Daughter-in-law Stacy Dickey promotes the farm’s market through social media, employee training and advertising. The Dickeys’ daughter, Marjie, a 2013 graduate of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, develops new recipes for the farm’s bakery. School groups often visit the farm for educational field trips, which are now in high demand. Son Lee Dickey manages the farm’s food-safety program and the installation of new peach trees and new crops, like 100 acres of pecans and 2 acres of strawberries. The farm plans to expand its vegetable acreage to meet the local school system’s demand for Georgia-grown produce. “When Crawford County lost its only grocery store in December 2016, Dickey Farms stepped up and provided fresh produce in season to meet the county’s needs,” said Sarah Greer, the UGA Cooperative Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources agent in Crawford County. Greer nominated Dickey and his farm for the Farmer of the Year award. “Dickey Farms exemplifies all that it means to be a steward of the land. They are innovative and progressive,” she said. “Not only are they an amazing farm that has persisted over generations, but they are outstanding community members.” In addition to his work on the farm, Dickey is serving his fourth term in the Georgia House of Representatives for District 140, which covers Crawford County and parts of Bibb, Houston, Monroe and Peach counties. He represents his fellow farmers on the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.  He is also a board member and past president of the Georgia Peach Council, has served as president and treasurer of the National Peach Council and is a member of the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Peaches and the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Dickey will now compete against farmers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.
  • Athens played host to NFL coaches and scouts Wednesday, as former Georgia Bulldog football players worked out on UGA’s annual Pro Day. The players are hoping to impress NFL teams in advance of next month’s NFL draft. From D. Orlando Ledbetter, AJC… Former Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker and wide receiver Mecole Hardman turned in impressive performances at the school’s Pro Day on Wednesday. Baker shaved some time off the slow 40-yard dash time he ran at the combine and proclaimed himself to be the best cornerback in the draft. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the combine and improved to 4.46 seconds Wednesday. “I know I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Baker said. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff heard some Baker hype, too. “Deandre had a really good day today,” Dimitroff said. “He’s quick, fast and explosive. He can run. Cover the field. Very good range that way. He’s being (mentioned) as one of the best in the country in the draft. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”  The Falcons are in the cornerback market after parting ways with Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Justin Bethel.  Georgia coach Kirby Smart believes that Baker’s talents project well to the NFL. “He’s a competitor,” Smart said. “He’s physical. He runs well. He’s played in a system (where) he could play multiple coverages. We asked him to make a lot of checks. He’s going to be a really good pro player.” NFL teams were impressed with Hardman’s shiftiness and ability to change direction.  “He ran so well out there,” Dimitroff said. “We know that he can fly. He’s another versatile guy who can not only catch the ball and run routes, but he can do some damage as a return guy. He did well.” Former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield and tight end Issac Nauta needed to improve on the 40-yard dash times that ran at the combine, but did not. Holyfield, who ran a 4.78 at the combine had times that ranged from 4.76 to 4.89 on five different timings. Basically, he didn’t run any faster.  The target time for running backs is 4.55 seconds. “Of course, it’s a concern and how high you determine that to be sort of the guiding light,” Dimitroff said. “Obviously, he’s a good football player. We have to keep an eye on that. He’s a good football player and knows how to play this game.” Holyfield is leaning on film evaluations. “I might not be able to run the fastest 40 in the world, but I can play football better than a lot of people,” Holyfield said. “I’ve heard 4.6, but I’ve heard 4.7 and 4.8. I don’t know the exact numbers. Teams have what they have, but they have the film, too.”  Smart believes that Holyfield, despite the slow times, can play in the NFL.  “Elijah is going to be a great pro,” Smart said. “He brings a lot to a team. He brings a toughness. He brings a demeanor about him. He loves to work. … The stripes of the players don’t change when they go to the next level. I know that he’s going to convert what he’s done well here into the same thing there.” Nauta, who against the advice of the NFL draft advisory committee which recommended that he return to school, didn’t significantly improve his 40-yard dash time. He ran the 40 in 4.91 at the combine and ranged from 4.71 to 4.83 on Wednesday. “I just sent him a text message that he’s got a lot of good tape out there,” Smart said of Nauta. “Not to get overwhelmed with one moment. Don’t be disappointed either way. You can run a great time and have too much expectation. Or you can run a poor time, worse than what you think you should, and you still have tape out there.” There’s certainly more to playing in the NFL that running fast.  “I know from having worked in that league, there is a lot more than just the combine and times,” Smart said. “There’s a lot more of football tape to be watched. There’s a lot of background to be checked. Those are all strong points for Isaac and a lot of our players.”  Former Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter also worked out during the linebacker drills.  “He did well,” Dimitroff said. “He was working hard today. He was grinding it out. There are number of guys on this Georgia team that whether they get drafted (middle rounds) or wherever they get drafted, they are going to show their stuff I think as they get into the league.” Former Georgia receiver Riley Ridley didn’t run the 40-yard dash. He elected to stay with a slow 4.58 time from the combine. He’s the younger brother of Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley.  “I looked at him once in awhile and I kept shaking my head,” Dimitroff said. “You see the similarities. He’s a little bit bigger.  “He had a good day as well. He ran the routes well and he’s got good size to him, too. It will be interesting to see where he plays out draft-wise, round-wide. I heard the buzz around there.” 
  • A recount is pending in Hart County, where Patrick Guarnella was a Tuesday election winner in the race for a seat on the Hartwell City Council, defeating Erin Gaines by just three votes out of the 301 ballots that were cast in this week’s election.  Restaurants in Lawrenceville, Sugar Hill, and Snellville will be able to serve alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, an hour and a half earlier than the current 12:30 p.m. law. Voters approved Sunday sales referendums in elections that were held earlier this week.

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has said before he doesn’t think there are many secrets in college football. That’s probably why Smart opened up Tuesday practice to the Oregon coaching staff, according to OregonLive.com. The Ducks’ staff, led by former Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, was in Tuscaloosa on Monday and Athens, Ga., on Tuesday to watch practice and visit with staff members. Smart was at Alabama as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for three seasons while Cristobal was there serving as the line coach. Georgia places heavy restrictions on the media presence at practice, even while opening up practice for the well-trained eyes of staff members they might ultimately face in the College Football Playoff or in a bowl game. That’s what happened in the Sugar Bowl, as Smart allowed Texas coach Tom Herman and his staff to attend the Bulldogs’ spring practices last year. “We took a trip out there this spring just to pick brains and talk shop a little bit,” Herman said leading up to the Longhorns’ 28-21 victory. Herman said when the Sugar Bowl matchup was announced that he didn’t see the Georgia run game as “anything too formidable.” The confident Texas coach proved correct against what was the SEC’s top rushing offense. The Bulldogs rushed for just   72 yards on 30 attempts after averaging 259.8 yards per game. Smart said his new offensive coordinator, James Coley, has been working to improve the offense and talked with other coaches. Chances are, Coley spoke with Cristobal about what the Ducks do on offense in addition to visiting other programs that Smart chose not to name. “We’ve been working on us and saying, okay, what can we do better, and I think James brings a lot of that to the table,” Smart said on Tuesday. “They’ve gone and visited with a lot of people to get new ideas.” The post One year after opening practice to Texas, Georgia allows Oregon to observe appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is hoping for a big NFL draft for his Bulldogs, the better for future recruiting. WATCH: Kirby Smart shares thoughts on UGA Pro Day But it was clear as Smart spoke on Wednesday’s pro day in the so-called “House of Payne” indoor facility he regretted the one recruit that got away after the bowl game. Mecole Hardman. Perhaps no UGA player would have benefitted more from returning for a senior season than Hardman. It’s fair to say the speedy Hardman  would have challenged tailback D’Andre Swift for total yardage honors in 2019. Instead, Hardman — who had just 12 catches in his last 8 games in former coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense at Georgia — could be the steal of the draft. “I still think he has great upside at the wide receiver position, so he’s a guy that’s going to flourish when he gets to that level,” Smart said on Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to seeing him do it, because he’s grown as a player for us, but he hasn’t even reached his full potential.” Hardman had just 34 catches last season for 532 yards and 7 TDs in 2018. He would have likely doubled those numbers in 2019 with UGA losing WRs Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin. Hardman said he told Smart after the Sugar Bowl he was going pro, and that’s when “it hit the fan.” There’s a strong chance Smart felt it would have been in Hardman’s best interests — ultimately — to return for another season. But where the team was concerned, it was the late decision that hurt Georgia in addition to losing such a great talent. Smart explained in an SEC Network interview that the Jan. 14 NFL declaration date puts college teams in a bind relative to the early December signing date. RELATED: Kirby Smart shares fascinating look into future “I’m finding out January 14 who’s leaving, but yet I’m signing kids in December who are coming in (January),” Smart said in February. “I think more and more teams, especially upper echelon programs, will have rosters full of freshman or sophomores and a few juniors, because your (would-be) seniors are coming out early, or they’re transferring, they’re going in the (transfer) portal if they’re not playing,” he said. “So your teams will always be loaded with youth, and probably whoever manages that best, is who’s going to remain at the top of college football.” That’s certainly true for Georgia at receiver.  Smart lamented not having an early enrollee at the position at the opening spring press conference. UGA has added signees Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens, but neither is on campus for spring drills. RELATED: Georgia 2019 football signing class list Hardman, meanwhile, appears to be the fastest-rising Georgia player in NFL draft rankings after running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine. WATCH: Mecole Hardman flashes SEC speed at NFL combine “I think a lot of people saw that speed, they expected me to run fast, they see that on film,” Hardman said. “They see the potential.” Smart helps NFL teams recognize just how much potential Hardman has by making it a point to mention that he’s only played the receiver position for two seasons. “I usually bring it up pretty quick, to me it’s an important thing to understand that here’s a guy that only caught snaps in high school (as a QB), then only caught interceptions as a freshman (as a DB) and then he spends two years catching the ball and he’s done a really good job doing that,” Smart said. “Especially in his pro days and his workouts,” Smart said. “That’s kinda the only thing that people could try to knock Mecole on (previously). “He’s fast, he’s elusive, he’s a great returner, well what about his hands? Well all he’s done is catch every ball thrown to him for the last two months, and I’m excited to see what he does.” Smart and Georgia fans just wish they could have seen Hardman do more to achieve his potential in Athens before departing for the NFL. Georgia receivers perform 3-Cone at Pro Day The post WATCH: Wide receiver steal in 2019 NFL Draft might also be Georgia’s biggest loss appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — It’s hard to know exactly how much goes into the decision to stay or leave when a college football player is contemplating entering the NFL draft. For some it’s a matter of filling out a little paperwork and waiting to see what comes back. For others, it’s a comprehensive study that entails numerous phone calls, meetings, detailed correspondences and thoughtful prayer. Count Georgia’s J.R. Reed’s contemplation among the latter. His wasn’t a decision that was arrived at easily. “It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve made, besides transferring out of the University of Tulsa,” said Reed, a fifth-year senior and two-year starter at safety for the Bulldogs. It just took a lot of praying and marking things down and doing logistics and talking it over with my parents. After weeks and maybe a month going in – because we thought about it before – we decided it’d probably be best for me to come back.” Reed certainly has plenty of good resources. His father, Jake Reed, was an NFL veteran who played 12 seasons at wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. He retired in 2002 having played in 155 NFL games and finished his career with 6,999 yards receiving and 36 touchdowns. So the Reed family was able to consult a number NFL executives in reaching their decision. J.R. said it ultimately came down to a good, old-fashioned list of pros and cons, and finally a very frank conversation with Georgia coach Kirby Smart. Reed and Smart agreed “it’d be best for me to come back for this team and get us to win a championship.” “It’s always been my goal since I came here to win a national championship,” said Reed, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound senior. “Coach Smart told me that’s what he wants this team to be; I told him I want to be a part of a championship team. So my goals haven’t really changed. That championship thing is always on your list, every time you play. If Georgia does win a championship in 2019, Reed will have had a lot to do with it. With cornerback Deandre Baker to an NFL career, Reed is the captain and unquestioned leader of what will be a young but talented secondary. And his experience factor at this point is through the roof. Reed didn’t arrive at Georgia from his hometown of Frisco, Texas, until his sophomore year when he transferred in from Tulsa and had to sit out per the NCAA’s Division I transfer requirement. But ever since he reacquired his eligibility, Reed has been on the field for the Bulldogs. He has started every game at safety ever since, logging 145 tackles, 4 interceptions, 7 pass break-ups and 2.5 quarterback sacks. Now he, rising junior Richard LeCounte and senior Tyrique McGhee combine to form defensive back line that will rival any in the SEC. That’s a good thing because the Bulldogs are going to be extremely young on the corners and throughout the rest of the depth chart in the secondary. Entering spring camp, sophomores Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes are the starting cornerbacks. Sophomores Otis Reese and Christopher Smith step in as backups at safety while Mark Webb, a relatively inexperienced junior, will look to step up at the nickel position. Meanwhile, Georgia is welcoming in several other newcomers to the defensive backfield, including freshman early enrollees Lewis Cine and Tyrique Stevenson and junior college transfer D.J. Daniel. Reed has been asked to keep a close eye on the newbies. “A lot of the (DBs) haven’t really played that much, and I think they’re ready to show UGA and the world what they have,” Reed said. “Their talents are still developing. In the spring, I think we’ll find it.” Count Smart and first-year defensive backs coach Charlton Warren among those most pleased that Reed decided to return. With all the youth in the back third of the defense, to have been breaking in a new safety would have been challenging. But Smart said he never takes it upon himself to talk underclassmen out of turning pro. The Bulldogs had four juniors off last year’s 11-3 team make the decision to enter the draft in receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, running back Elijah Holyfield and tight end Isaac Nauta. All four went through UGA’s Pro Day Wednesday before all representatives of all 32 NFL teams. Reed watched from a balcony in the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility. Smart said he generally doesn’t try to talk underclassmen into or out of the draft. He just tries to supply as much information as possible and will give them his opinion if it’s asked for. “We’re certainly very thrilled for the future of their careers,” Smart said of the early entries. “We’re looking forward to see how they do. … I’ve followed each one of them, communicated with each one of them, and we as a coaching staff and really organization are pulling really hard for those guys. The best thing that could happen for us is for each one of those guys to be drafted as high as possible, and for our program, and we’re looking forward to having a hell of a draft because we have the potential to have a lot of guys drafted. This time next year, Reed will be among the Bulldogs getting tested for the draft. He plans to do so with another championship ring in his pocket. “I have to take my role more seriously,” Reed said of his senior season. “It is just a different role than I have had in the past. … Now, a lot of it comes on your shoulders. We just have to get everybody leaning in the same direction.” The post Georgia safety J.R. Reed puts NFL dream on hold to pursue championship with Bulldogs appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia linebacker Jaden Hunter was arrested on Wednesday night and faces charges for illegally stopping, standing or parking a vehicle. The jail booking recap report on the Athens’ Clark County website revealed Hunter was booked at 9:04 p.m. by the UGA police and released at 11:33 p.m. after posting a $1,000 bond. Hunter, who is from Atlanta and attended Westlake High School, was also found to be driving with a license that was suspended or revoked. Kirby Smart has not commented on the arrest of Hunter, who is the son of the late Brice Hunter, an All-SEC receiver and team captain of the Bulldogs. The post Georgia linebacker Jaden Hunter arrested Wednesday night in Athens appeared first on DawgNation.
  • The University of Georgia Police Department is reporting the arrest of a Georgia Bulldog football player. Jaden Hunter faces misdemeanor charges that include driving with a suspended license and standing/stopping/parking in a prohibited area. Specifics of the arrest were not immediately available.  Hunter, the son of former Bulldog player Brice Hunter, is a rising junior on this year’s team. He played at Westlake High School in Atlanta. The arrest comes as Hunter and his Bulldog teammates are beginning spring football practices.