Speaking ill of the dead in Ellijay, and other topics

Things are being said up in north Georgia that can’t be unsaid.

On Sunday, a group of GOP insurgents gathered at Oscar Poole’s barbecue emporium in Ellijay and fired themselves up with some standard and non-so-standard rhetoric.

An audio recording of the entire event made its way to us – that’s the way of things these days – and toward the end, Phil Neff, the former Whitfield County GOP chairman took the mike.

After attesting to the character of Pennington, the former mayor of Dalton, Neff went after the sitting governor, pointing to his Democratic past:

“He’s just a turncoat, in a way. He has no principles. I’m not saying nothing bad about him – I do say this. Nathan Deal is in it for himself. He’s not in it for the people.”

Harsh, but not earthshaking. Then Neff adjusted his sights on the House District 7 primary:

“Ralston – I’ve known David Ralston – I knew his dad in the Georgia Republican party. He was a snake from the word go. David is the same way.”

Laughter ensued.

Possibly the rules are different north of Canton, but in the rest of Georgia, calling out dead fathers is considered bad form. Willard Ralston, the longtime (elected) clerk of court in Gilmer County, died four years ago at age 81.

Neff had been chairman of the Pennington campaign, but a spokeswoman informed us this morning that Neff left that post in February. “We did not invite him to speak on our behalf [at the Sunday event], and we can’t speak for him,” said press secretary Megan Matteucci.

We called Joe McCutchen, who MC’d the event. McCutchen said he was distracted and didn’t hear Neff’s remarks. “I don’t know what happened between Phil and Willard Ralston, but I had a good relationship with Willard Ralston – I thought he was a fine man. David’s always been nice to me,” McCutchen said.

As for Oscar Poole, the barbecue man -- he appears to allude to the situation on his Facebook page:

“I am distraught over tactics used by "outside influences" coming into the area to campaign against any candidate. These tactics are repugnant to me. I hereby disavow and disassociate from these divisive tactics. They run contrary to who I Am. I have not, am not, cannot, and, will not have any part of these tactics.”

***

The headlines out of North Carolina this morning are toasting the almighty Republican establishment, after Thom Tillis prevailed in the GOP Senate primary by clearing the 40 percent runoff barrier.

The New York Times' Jonathan Martin puts things in context:

While Mr. Tillis is no moderate — he pushed through a conservative agenda in the Legislature — the North Carolina results represent a win for such Republican groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads, both of which aired TV ads in the state in an effort to ensure Mr. Tillis did not have to face a potentially draining mid-July runoff. The groups, along with the Senate Republican leadership, were also concerned a runoff would give an opening to [Greg] Brannon, who they feared could not beat [Democratic Sen. Kay] Hagan.

In the final days of the primary, the race became something of a proxy war between high-profile Republicans. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, both offered late endorsements of Mr. Tillis, while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky appeared Monday at a rally in Charlotte, N.C., for Mr. Brannon.

But it was Mr. Paul’s only trip to the state on behalf of Mr. Brannon. In addition to dividing the anti-establishment vote with Mr. Harris, Mr. Brannon was not able to win support from well-funded conservative groups, like the Club for Growth, that insurgent candidates often rely upon to defeat mainstream Republicans.

A Chamber-backed candidate won elsewhere in N.C. and House Speaker John Boehner blew away a primary challenger in Ohio.

Looking for a parallel to Georgia? Jack Kingston has the U.S. Chamber on his side, but we haven't seen American Crossroads yet -- nor have we seen any 2016 presidential hopefuls barnstorming Georgia. The establishment-tea party narrative has been hard to slice in a primary with five viable candidates, as our colleague Kyle Wingfield points out, and everyone acknowledges this thing is going to a runoff, so save the narrative machine for July.

What could translate to Georgia? The anemic turnout. From the Washington Post:

There are more than 6.5 million registered voters in North Carolina. Slightly less than 16 percent of them turned out to vote in Tuesday's primary.

Low turnout in non-presidential years — especially primaries — is nothing new. But, every time a state manages to coax a depressingly low percentage of people to the polls during primaries, it is a reminder of how few people control the options the larger electorate has to choose from on Election Day. And every time a non-battleground state manages to coax a depressingly low percentage of people to the polls during the general election, it is a reminder of how few people bother to take in politics writ large.

***

Karen Handel's campaign came out with an internal poll this morning that showed she and businessman David Perdue are in a statistical tie ahead of the May 20 vote.

The poll shows Perdue at 23 percent, Handel at 21 percent and Rep. Jack Kingston at 15 percent. Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey trail at 8 percent, and roughly one-fifth of the voters are undecided.

The telephone survey was conducted by Rosetta Stone Communications and involved 729 GOP primary voters.

It's worth noting that Kingston released his own internal poll last week that showed him in the lead. When we asked him if he was worried about his support, he said that outside groups wouldn't be spending big money to attack him if he was truly polling at third place.

***

On Tuesday evening, one of us had the pleasure of moderating a forum that featured attorneys Elena Parent and Kyle Williams, two Democrats competing for the Decatur-centric state Senate seat being vacated by Jason Carter, who on May 20 will become the Democratic nominee for governor. The Agnes Scott College event was sponsored by DeKalb County Young Democrats.

The matter of Carter’s vote on HB 60, the bill that greatly expands Georgia’s concealed-carry law, was an inevitable topic.

From Parent:

“I’m disheartened by the legislation that passed. I’ve always been in favor of common-sense gun laws. I don’t believe that we need guns everywhere. And I have experience knowing how to fight these terrible proposals.

“The only things we can do is stand up, put our feet down, and then think like they think – and turn out the folks that they listen to, who can have their ear and make the arguments in a conservative way and through conservative coalition-building.”

Williams was more Carter-specific:

“I’ve known Jason, have been friends with Jason, served early on the board of Red Clay Democrats with him, and I endorse him and will support him for governor….However – that’s a big ‘however’ – I fundamentally have disagreed with him in the past, and fundamentally disagree with him now, on his votes on guns. They’re taking us in the wrong direction.”

***

David Perdue is going 3-D.

The Republican Senate candidate is rolling out a new app for iPhone and Android platforms which, once you install it and point your phone at a special page on Perdue's website, presents a 3-D image of Perdue giving his usual "outsider" pitch.

Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said the app cost $50,000 and came out of a Perdue brainstorm to reach more voters through non-traditional means. Perdue consulted with tech-savvy folks he knew through Georgia Tech and they put it together.

After you download the app, it requests your gender, birth date and zip code, which helps the campaign's targeting efforts. Dickey said as the campaign moves on -- potentially -- to the runoff and general election stages, messages via the app will be more customized and deal with specific issues.

***

We know we're getting down to crunch time in the Senate race when the candidates can't afford to leave the state to do their day jobs. Rep. Jack Kingston launched his "All Georgia Tour" this morning at a Bojangles in Conyers and will be trucking around the state all week leading up to Saturday night's debate in Columbus. That means he won't be in Washington for the U.S. House workweek.

Rep. Phil Gingrey missed the first votes of the week Tuesday evening as well. Rep. Paul Broun made it to D.C.

***

The U.S. Senate campaign of Jack Kingston rolled out another endorsement this morning – this time from former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes. The operative Forbes quote re the Savannah congressman:

“In Congress, [Kingston] has distinguished himself as a proven budget cutter. I wholeheartedly endorse his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Conservatives can rely on Jack Kingston to take up the fight for limited government, a robust economy, and a strong dollar.”

***

Jamie Dupree's Monday piece on Georgia congressmen  driving government-leased cars reminded us of a 2007 profile of Karen Handel, now a candidae for U.S. Senate, in this newspaper when she was secretary of state. It included this passage:

Handel usually drives herself --- in a Lexus SUV that still has the new-car smell --- to appearances and appointments, choosing the $587-per-month allowance rather than a state car. She is quick to point out that she doesn't file for mileage reimbursement, even though she's eligible for it.

***

Paul Broun, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is the firstto file his pre-primary fundraising report. He raised $142,000 in April and spent $192,000, leaving $180,000 on hand.

***

An independent poll in the 12th Congressional District shows that Augusta businessman Rick Allen might advance without a runoff.

Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone found 40 percent support for Allen (he needs 50 to escape a runoff) in the Republican primary, with businessman Eugene Yu at 15 percent, former congressional staffer John Stone at 8 percent and state Rep. Delvis Dutton at 8 percent. The telephone auto-poll was conducted May 1 -- just as Dutton was going on the air -- with 500 likely voters in the May 20 primary, with a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Mark Rountree of Landmark told us the two firms had no client involved in the survey.

***

Democratic Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn is raising money in Austin, Texas, today along with Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who's likely to face Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Georgia GOP does not approve.

***

Gov. Nathan Deal has begun to outline the next phase of his criminal justice overhaul aimed at keeping more low-level offenders out of jail.

The remarks came after a Tuesday groundbreaking for a Marietta mental health care facility that is hoped to relieve the strain of nearby hospitals and first responders. He said in an interview that he also hopes these facilities will lay the groundwork for an expansion of alternative accountability courts.

"Long term, we all have to acknowledge we have to do a better job at dealing with substance abuse," he said.

The details are still being worked out, but Deal said if he wins a second term he would push a broader expansion of accountability courts aimed at offenders who abuse drugs or alcohol. These courts require defendants to work, seek treatment and stay sober.

The overhaul has already reduced jail backlogs by 90 percent and saved around $20 million a year, he said.

"That money can be better spent dealing with the problems that got people in trouble in the first place, which in many instances is substance abuse," said Deal. "Those are the kind of things we'll be working on between now and the end of the year."

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.
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