At the start of 2021, most held out hope that this year would bring about a return to the normalcy that 2020 lacked. However, in many ways 2021 was a continuation of the previous year.
The coronavirus pandemic continued to dominate all aspects of life both nationally and in Georgia and served once again as the backdrop of our lives.
Now, we look back at the top 21 news stories that impacted the Peach State in 2021 — many of them shaped by the pandemic that raged in the background — and often the foreground — of our lives this year.
Note, the top news stories are listed in no particular order.
Coronavirus: Year 2
Our top story of 2021 was also the top story of 2020. The continuing global pandemic touched so much of our lives and history this year that we devoted a whole post to it. You can read that here.
Fulton County in The Crosshairs
The 2020 presidential election was rife with controversy and the brunt of a national nightmare that ensued as Trump supporters attempted to overturn the presidential election landed on Fulton County.
Trump’s legal team seized on video footage from Mercedez-Benz stadium and debunked accusations that ballots were stored in suitcases only to be brought out later to change the vote.
Multiple legal efforts attempted to inspect or recount ballots in the county. Like the vast majority of the Trump team’s lawsuits, courts and judges rejected the long-shot attempts to change the results. While news about the efforts was intense at the beginning of the year, it fizzled out of headlines after the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, but the controversy and legal actions lived on all year.
One lawsuit seeking to inspect 147,000 ballots was thrown out by a Henry County judge as late as October.
A phone call from President Donald Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is still under investigation, in which Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse his 11,779-vote loss in the state.
The chaos created by the effort to cast doubt on the election results led to threats made against state elections officials and their families and the eventual resignation of Fulton County’s embattled elections chief Rich Barron.
Democracy Under Attack
What started as an election controversy and an attempt to discredit a national election turned into an attempted coup on Jan. 6 when armed insurrectionists laid siege to the United States Capitol in an effort to prevent the electoral votes from being counted by Congress.
The armed mob included several Georgians who have since been arrested for their roles in the attack.
At least 18 Georgians have been arrested and charged, including an Alpharetta man who plead guilty to assaulting police officers during the attack, and a Savannah car salesman who lost his job when his role in the insurrection was made public.
Locally, lawmakers condemned the attacks, with Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston calling Jan. 6 a “dark day in the history of our nation.”
Republican lawmakers and officials in Georgia had to walk a delicate tightrope after the 2020 election and Jan. 6 insurrection. While openly stating that the elections in Georgia were free and fair with no fraud or irregularities, these same politicians claimed Georgia needed election law reforms to prevent election fraud.
The result was an overhaul of the state’s election laws known as The “Election Integrity Act of 2021.”
Among the changes, the time to request a mail-in-ballot has been cut in half, the application deadline for the ballots is also earlier, ballots will be mailed out later. Absentee ballot drop boxes are now required in all counties, but will only be accessible during early voting hours. They were available 24/7 prior to the change in the law.
Under the law, only poll workers can hand out water to voters.
Vote counting is also different under the new law, with absentee ballots being allowed to be processed up to two weeks prior to an election. The ballots would not actually be counted until polls close on election night.
The law is still subject to several lawsuits.
Georgia Turns Blue: Year 2
While claims of voter fraud and election irregularities are unfounded, part of the impetus for those claims is the fact that Georgia stunned the entire nation by turning blue in the 2020 Presidential Election. The Peach State being in play politically is shocking to most observers.
The trend of Georgia as a blue state continued into January of 2021, when the U.S. Senate Runoff election saw Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock score victories in their races.
In case you forgot, each state has two senators, so 100% of Georgia’s senate seats now belong to Democrats. The victory also tipped the balance of power in the Senate, giving Democrats a razor-thin majority.
Georgia Slow Rolls The Vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine was a source of early frustration for many Georgians who were eagerly anticipating the end of the coronavirus era as they watched residents of neighboring states get the vaccine before most Georgians were considered eligible.
The vaccine arrived in Georgia in December of 2020, but only frontline workers were eligible to receive it at first. Due to a combination of supply issues, technical issues, and priority groups that differed from other states, Georgia slowly rolled out the vaccine and by Jan. 12 had the worst-in-the-nation status for vaccinations.
At the time, everyone from health care leaders to Kemp expressed frustration at the slow rollout.
In February a dispute arose over the fact that teachers were still not eligible to be vaccinated. According to Kemp, there was not enough vaccine supply at the time to bump teachers to the front of the line.
In mid-February, cold weather halted several shipments of the vaccine nationwide and the CDC notified the state that both Pfizer and Moderna had held back some vaccines due to the weather.
By February 19, the state was finalizing plans to expand the vaccines to teachers, but Kemp at the time expressed concerns that only 45% of educators said they wanted the vaccine.
As the Delta variant took hold, President Joe Biden implemented vaccine mandates for federal employees, contract workers, and some companies. Kemp, who has always been pro-vaccine but against federal mandates, sued the Biden administration in response.
It took Georgia until late October to reach the elusive 50% vaccination mark, and by then vaccinated Georgians were starting to get their first COVID booster shots.
Spa Shootings Shock Metro Atlanta
On March 16, metro Atlanta was shaken to its core by a series of shootings at local Asian-owned spas in Atlanta and Acworth.
Two of the shootings occurred in East Atlanta near Piedmont Road at two massage parlors that were across the street from each other. The third shooting occurred at a massage parlor in Cherokee County at Hwy. 92 and Bells Ferry Road.
Eight people were killed in the shootings and one person was wounded.
21-year-old Robert Aaron Long was arrested that night.
Authorities said Long was headed to Florida with the intent to commit similar acts to the shootings in Georgia.
Law enforcement officials in Cherokee County said the killings were motivated by the suspect’s alleged sex addiction.
Georgia Wins Water Wars
Georgia was handed two victories in the long-running water wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
In April, the United States Supreme Court sided unanimously with Georgia, stating that Florida was unable to prove its accusations that Georgia’s use of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint River systems were the cause of Florida’s oyster industry woes.
In September, Georgia won a key battle in the water wars with Alabama after a U.S. District Judge ruled that Georgia’s water use was not causing harm to water users or the environment in Alabama.
It’s Georgia’s water and Georgia can keep it — at least for now.
One of the biggest concerns among Georgia residents this year has been the rise of crime — particularly violent crime — throughout metro areas in the state.
The spike in crime nationally is known as the COVID crime wave, and it is impacting metropolitan areas around the country.
One explanation for the crime wave is a backlog in court cases and the partial shutdown of the state’s court system, which is allowing criminals to remain on the streets.
In October, Atlanta was ranked the number one city in the nation for an increase in homicides since the pandemic began.
In November, the Albany and Macon areas were named among the most dangerous cities in the United States.
State leaders have not been blind to the crime wave and have been actively working on solutions to the problem. Lawmakers at the State Capitol have been holding hearings on the crime wave and its solutions since July.
Mad About Marjorie
No one in Georgia has drawn quite as much heat this year as its new firebrand representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Since winning her seat in the 14th Congressional District last August, the Republican Congresswoman has been a regular staple of both local and national headlines.
In February, Greene was booted from the education and budget committees, causing the 14th district to lose influence and a voice in most acts of Congress — a fact which has bolstered Greene’s opponents in next year’s Congressional races.
At the time Greene was removed from committee assignments, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to vote in favor of her removal.
In May, Greene was under fire again for comparing mask mandates to Nazi gold stars. Greene did not walk back her comments, but rather doubled down on them and was quoted as saying “I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany and any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.”
Greene has refused to wear a mask on the floor of Congress and has consequently racked up more than $80,000 in penalties.
As part of Congressional redistricting, Greene’s district could now include parts of Cobb County. Previously, it included a large swath of Northwest Georgia, but no parts of Cobb.
An Unexpected New Mayor
That Atlanta even has a new mayor-elect would have seemed like a major shock in January of 2021. Despite having an administration that has been troubled by a rise in violent crime, Keisha Lance Bottoms was riding a wave of popularity late last year and early this year.
At one point, she was being considered as Joe Biden’s running mate and her star was rapidly rising. But in May, Bottoms announced that she would not be seeking reelection.
Bottoms cited her faith as the catalyst of her decision.
“When you have faith and you pray for God’s wisdom and guidance — in the same way that it was very clear to me almost 5 years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta — it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” she said.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed entered the race to replace Bottoms and certainly garnered the lion’s share of attention. In November, it looked almost certain that Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore would be headed for a runoff.
However, council member Andre Dickens had slowly been gaining ground and got more votes than Reed, pushing Reed out of the race.
Dickens continued to gain momentum and by the December runoff, Dickens won by a wide margin.
Wellstar and UnitedHealthcare Break Their Union
In early October, talks between UnitedHealthcare and Wellstar Health System broke down.
The failure to reach an agreement meant that with three months before patients could have new health plans take effect, 80,000 patients lost insurance coverage at Wellstar.
In the usual he-said, she-said scenario of hospital and insurance negotiations, United claimed Wellstar’s reimbursements were excessive and Wellstar claimed it wanted United to pay the same rate as other insurers.
To date, an agreement has not been reached.
Changing Population = Changing Voting Districts
While the Census was taken last year during the heart of the pandemic, the results of the Census were not apparent until this year and they will begin to impact Georgians starting next year.
This year, redistricting was the talk of the town as the state legislature grappled with how to make voting districts reflect Georgia’s growing population.
At the heart of the issue is that areas of the state that tend to vote for Democrats have grown, but the state legislature is still controlled by Republicans who would like to hold onto power despite the changing demographics of the state.
This led to proposed maps that moved part of Georgia’s 6th district, which is newly Democratic, into Forsyth County, which is a majority Republican county. We also saw an attempt to basically throw Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux out of her own district. As a consequence, now District 6 Rep. Lucy McBath, will likely be running against Bourdeaux for the District 7 seat next year.
In other Census related news, we learned just last week that Georgia’s population has grown faster than all but four states, adding 73,766 residents in the last year.
Justice For Ahmaud
One of last year’s top news stories was the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the protests surrounding his death. This year, Georgians saw some resolution to the issues raised by Arbery’s murder in the form of legal reforms and prosecution of Arbery’s killers.
In May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp repealed Georgia’s Civil War era citizen’s arrest law, which Arbery’s killer’s claimed they were acting under.
In November, all three of Arbery’s accused killers were found guilty by a nearly all-white jury after just two days of deliberations.
The three still face federal hate crimes charges.
In October, the years-long saga of The Golden Ray finally came to an end when the final section of the cargo ship that wrecked in the St. Simons Sound was removed.
The Golden Ray, it is a cargo ship that capsized off the coast of Georgia in 2019, and has been occupying space in the St. Simons Sound since then. In May a fire broke out on the vessel and was extinguished.
Wreck removal personnel stowed the final section of the Golden Ray wreck and transported it to a local facility for partial dismantling.
Pain at The Pump
It’s been a long year. So long, in fact, that you may have forgotten that in May a cyber-attack led to a massive fuel shortage when a gas pipeline had to be shut down for several days.
Georgia was front and center during the shortage — the company that was hacked and runs the pipeline was Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline.
The company was hit by a ransomware attack and had to shutdown a 5,500-mile pipeline that ran from Texas to New Jersey.
The pipeline was restarted within a week, but that didn’t end the nation’s gasoline woes.
After surviving the ransomware attack, gas prices went up due to several other factors, making gas throughout Georgia and the rest of the nation cost a king’s ransom.
Gas prices have been steadily over $3.00 per gallon at most stations for several months due to a slate of factors ranging from supply issues to the fact that more people are traveling now than during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, gas prices aren’t the only commodity that has seen a drastic price increase this year.
It was predicted when the pandemic first started last year, but inflation reared its ugly head in 2021.
According to recent estimates, inflation cost the average family about $3,500 this year. Most families are noticing these increases when they go to the grocery store.
Consumer prices jumped 6.8% in November, which is the highest surge in prices since 1982.
For the reasons behind recent inflation, click here.
While 2020 saw supply chain issues for specific products like toilet paper, 2021 saw supply chains stretched to their limits.
This was not isolated to Georgia, but the supply issues did impact ports in Coastal Georgia.
Fortunately, the Port of Savannah’s mega-rail terminal began operation in November and will increase capacity of the port about 30%.
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill also included abut $8 million flowing into the port of Savannah to address supply chain issues.
Another trend that began in 2020 and continued into 2021 was known as “The Great Resignation.” Workers left low-paying jobs in search of greener grass and a labor shortage ensued.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp blamed the labor shortage on extended unemployment payments and ended them.
The battle over unemployment benefits came to a head in May, when labor leaders protested the move.
However, the reasons for the national labor shortage are many and were not limited just to expanded unemployment benefits. To learn more about the actual cause of the labor shortage from experts at UGA, click here.
To Kemp’s credit, a combination of Kemp’s pro-business stance and his efforts to keep Georgia open during the pandemic resulted in the state having the highest number of employed Georgians in the state’s history.
The state’s current labor force surpasses the number of employed residents prior to the pandemic by over 3,000.
Battle for The Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s seat isn’t up for reelection until next year, but that didn’t stop several candidates from announcing their intentions to oust Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year.
Kemp will face opposition both from the left and the right. His refusal to appease Trump supporters by falling in line with the former president on Georgia’s election result have cost him support from both Trump and many Republicans in Trump’s base. Kemp is also pro-mask and pro-vaccine, which could cost him votes from the far right.
On the republican side, former Democrat Vernon Jones has switched parties and is making a bid for governor as is former U.S. Senator and Trump ally David Perdue. While Kemp caught heat from Trump and his supporters for certifying the state’s election results, Perdue has caught heat for his assertion that he would not have certified the results had he been governor.
If Kemp is able to stave off his primary challengers, he will likely face a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who Kemp narrowly beat to become governor.
A Brave New World
No matter what bad news we had during 2021 or what the year may have taken from us, The Atlanta Braves won the World Series, and that can’t be taken away.
The Braves won the championship 7-0 in Houston in November, ending a 26-year drought.
The Braves celebrated their win with a parade that started in Downtown Atlanta and made its way to Truist Park in Cobb County.