110118 Atlanta : Atlanta Dream owner Kathy Betty, center,poses for a photo with her new business partners, Mary Brock, left and Kelly Loeffler during a press conference at Philips Arena Tuesday January 18, 2011. Betty, the sole owner since buying the team in 2009, will become the managing partner of the all-female ownership group. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com
Photo: Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com
Photo: Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com

The Jolt: Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler ‘saddened’ by ‘politicized sports’

Positions that U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has taken to fend off a challenge from the right have put her out of step with her own Atlanta Dream team, causing angst for WNBA supporters and Loeffler herself.

Allow us to point you to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report in which some Dream season ticket holders say they are unsure about whether they will continue to invest in the team, citing Loeffler’s recent emphasis on her support for conservative issues, the better to defend against a potential 2020 challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler is part-owner of the team.

The piece ledes with the example of Amy Crawford and her wife, who are unsure whether they will renew their season tickets:

Crawford, a project manager at a software company, is considering giving them up in response to co-owner Kelly Loeffler’s appointment as Georgia’s next U.S. senator and her pledge of “unapologetic” support for President Donald Trump. 

“I’m having a hard time understanding,” Crawford said. “We paid, what, more than $7,000 for our tickets last year to line the pockets of someone who now as a public figure is going to be opposed to all of the things that keep me safe?”

The WNBA has a history of appealing to black and LGBTQ fans, both groups far from Trump’s base. Plus, the league has a reputation for supporting progressive causes like a 2018 initiative that allowed fans to to donate a portion of ticket sales to Planned Parenthood, an abortion rights group.

Over several years, the Atlanta Dream has been part of a coalition of business and entertainment companies in Georgia that have opposed “religious liberty” bills that critics have said could legalize discrimination against LGBT couples. Loeffler has indicated she would support some version of such legislation.

The issue may not surface again in Congress. A version of the legislation passed by a bipartisan vote in 1993 and was shortly signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

But it has become a litmus test among conservatives in Georgia and a perennial tussle in the Georgia statehouse, even after then-Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill in 2016 amid threats of dire financial fallout. 

That AJC article was published on Monday. Loeffler chose to respond to it during an interview with one of your Insiders shortly before her swearing in. She reiterated that she purchased the Dream because she loved basketball and wanted to provide a new entertainment option in Atlanta.

“I’ve seen how politicized sports have become recently, and it certainly wasn't that way 10 years ago when I bought the team with my business partner,” Loeffler said. “But I've been saddened by that, and then frankly I think Americans have been saddened by the politicization of sports, because it is something that uniquely unites people.”

But if Loeffler is saying she would rather the Dream and team supporters “stick to sports” -- well, that’s a position that has been met with its own level of criticism and critiques

**

A pair of polls conducted in December but released on Tuesday point to challenges ahead for Georgia’s new U.S. senator. 

Mason-Dixon poll found no consensus on Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick of Kelly Loeffler for the vaunted seat, showing that roughly one-third of voters approve of the appointment and about 29% disapprove. A plurality of 36% had no opinion.

A survey of Republican voters by Public Policy Polling dug a little deeper. It found that roughly 20% of voters had a favorable opinion of Loeffler, 20% had an unfavorable opinion of her -- and nearly 60% weren’t sure.

Asked the same question about U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, her top potential GOP rival, nearly two-thirds of Republican voters have a favorable opinion and only 6% have an unfavorable view.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, the Gainesville congressman bested Loeffler by a 56-16% margin. Asked about potential race against former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, a Republican who has mentioned his own interest in a 2020 challenge, Loeffler leads by a 27-14 clip -- with roughly 60% unsure. 

(A reminder that there will be no primary matchup between Loeffler and a GOP rival since the November vote is a special election - a free-for-all featuring candidates from all parties on the same ballot.)

Both polls found Kemp’s approval rating in good standing. The Mason-Dixon poll said 54% of Georgians approve of his job performance, while the PPP poll of GOP voters found 76% give him favorable reviews.

The Mason-Dixon poll involved a survey of 625 registered voters with a margin of error of 4 percent between Dec. 19-25. 

The PPP poll surveyed 711 likely Republican voters from Dec. 12-13 - shortly after she was appointed to the seat and before her roll-out.

***

A Bernie Sanders-styled progressive has entered the race for new U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat.

Richard Dien Winfield, a University of Georgia philosophy professor who unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in 2018, filed paperwork to run for Senate this month.

He told your Insiders he plans to speak at the monthly meeting of the DeKalb Democrats on Thursday to help launch his campaign. The Red & Black, the independent UGA student newspaper, reported he’s set to go on unpaid leave. 

“I’m hoping this Senate race, unlike the race for the House, I’m going to have much more free statewide — and ultimately national — press attention,” Winfield told the newspaper

“There will be opportunities for real debates on the issues. Once that happens, I’ll be able to muster the resources to get out to the public.”

Other candidates include Matt Lieberman, an educator and entrepreneur who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. A higher-profile contender backed by party leaders is also likely to soon join the contest.

Read more about his 2018 bid here

***

Senate Republicans may be holding together when it comes to the impeachment of Donald Trump. But the president’s decision to assassinate a ranking Iranian general – even one with a dark history of fomenting terrorism in the Middle East and beyond – is another matter. From an interview of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

Paul: [I]t lessens the voices of anybody that wants moderation or diplomacy. And even the Iranians will not be able to approach us on diplomacy until there's revenge -- until there's adequate revenge to satiate the people who want some kind of revenge.

And this is sad. I mean, the death of Soleimani, I think, is the death of diplomacy with Iran. I don't see an off-ramp. I don't see a way out of this.

BLITZER: So, did the president make a major mistake?

PAUL:  I think that he got bad advice.

***

Amir Farokhi is a first-term member of the Atlanta City Council and an Iranian-American. From a Monday statement he put out on Twitter:

“Like all Americans, we want to see a reformed, more open Iran that doesn’t engage in destabilizing violence.

“Recent actions run contrary to this objective. The assassination of Qassem Soleimani and escalating actions by the Trump administration have cast a worrying, consuming pall over all of us. Moreover, threats by the president to attack cultural sites that are important to our common human history is beneath our national character. It would also be a war crime.

“For the safety and success of our country, and for global peace and security, we must raise our voices for diplomacy, the rule of law, and collective action. These are the best means to advance our interests with Iran. Yes, our military strength is unparalleled. But turning to it now, without sufficient cause for escalation, the approval of Congress, or a clear endgame in mind shows poor judgment and makes us less safe.”

***

David Perdue is one of 10 GOP members of the U.S. Senate who have proposed changing the chamber’s rules on impeachment in order to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand.

The bill authored by Josh Hawley of Missouri would allow the Senate to dismiss articles of impeachment if the House does not send charges within 25 days.

“President Trump deserves his day in court, and the Senate is fully prepared to conduct a fair trial,” Perdue said in a statement issued by his office. “However, if the House refuses to send over the articles, the Senate should have the ability to dismiss and move on to finding real solutions for the American people.”

***

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter is one of the most talkative members of the U.S. House, according to end-of-year stats compiled by C-SPAN.

Carter, a Republican from Pooler, Ga., spoke on the House floor on 73 different days, putting him in third place among all members. No other Georgians made the top 10 in the House or Senate.

***

Dave Levinthal, editor-at-large for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom, posted this reminder on Twitter, prompted by the latest federal filings:

  1. What former presidential candidate’s campaign still owes creditors more than $4.63 million — more than any other presidential campaign?
  2. Newt 2012 — @newtgingrich’s old campaign.

***

Jason Thompson has announced that he’ll seek re-election as a member of the Republican National Committee from Georgia.

***

Margaret Renkl of the New York Times has penned a thoughtful letter of encouragement for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As has Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy,” who suffers from the same cancer. Both men are 79.

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