Bryan Long (right), executive director of Better Georgia, speaks during the "die-in" protest at Woodruff Park in Atlanta in 2017. Cory Hancock/AJC file
Photo: Cory Hancock/Cory Hancock
Photo: Cory Hancock/Cory Hancock

The Jolt: Better Georgia, a Democratic guerilla group, closes its doors

Once upon a time, a state Capitol staffer sat in front of us and confessed to a bit of envy.

He wished that the Georgia GOP had something like Better Georgia, the autonomous, Democratic strike group that harassed ruling Republicans at every turn.

Funded anonymously, but with clear ties to former Gov. Roy Barnes, Better Georgia conducted quick-strike ad campaigns (in 2015, to fend off a “religious liberty” measure) and commissioned polls (to encourage state Sen. Jason Carter to run for governor in 2014).

Here’s a story one of your Insiders wrote about their clandestine operations six years ago.

The Macon-based organization arose from the chaos that was a defeated state Democratic party. "I don't talk to the Democratic Party. I don't talk to [then-Democratic party chair] Mike Berlon. There's no coordination. Like none. Zero," Bryan Long, the group’s executive director, told us in 2012.

Better Georgia had just made its first big splash. A BG staffer had slipped into Room 341 at the Capitol and recorded an invitation-only seminar in which Republican state senators were informed that local zoning laws were part of a United Nations conspiracy to deprive Americans of their property rights. The secret U.N. effort even had a name: Agenda 21.

In 2016, the last year for which financial statements are available, Better Georgia took in 620,116. Long’s salary was $98,413.

But Better Georgia has now shuttered its doors. The era of Democratic guerilla warfare is done, replaced by the direct assault of a state party now led by Stacey Abrams and her followers.

Long is no longer Better Georgia’s leader. His interim replacement, Alan Pearson, has sent this note:

“With much regret, we must inform you, our many loyal supporters and donors, that it has been necessary to dissolve both Better Georgia and The Alliance for a Better Georgia. 

“The chief reason is our inability to secure funding to support the kind of operation that we had for most of the eight years of our existence. The organization, however, is transitioning to an online-only source of progressive news and commentary. We will officially relaunch Better Georgia’s Facebook page and Better Georgia’s progressive blog very soon, so please be sure to join the conversation on those channels.”

Long said Thursday that while the nonprofits have closed, he plans to “continue the good work that we started in 2011” through a website and the Facebook page:

“We will continue to lift the voices of Democrats and progressives across the state. We’re just 15 seats away from putting Democrats into the majority in the state house and within a whisker of winning statewide elections. We will make sure that BetterGeorgia.org continues to be part of Democratic efforts to win.”

***

A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report is expected to be released today. D.C. is on tenterhooks, wondering what it will say about President Donald Trump.

Twenty-four hours before the big unveiling, one of your Insiders sat down with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and thus one of Trump’s top legal defenders in Congress.

Collins said he expects the report will confirm what Attorney General Bill Barr summarized more than three weeks ago: No collusion and no obstruction charges. But still he expects Democrats will seize on details they can further investigate on Capitol Hill.

“The problem was the findings were not what most of my friends on the other side of the aisle thought what was going to happen,” Collins said of the Barr summary.

Read more about his Mueller strategy here, and check out our polling of Georgia voters on the issue. (Spoiler: most say Barr’s summary of the probe had no effect on their view of Trump.)

***

As we mentioned earlier, the Peachtree City council will meet this evening to consider an ordinance that would permit cities officials to use city funds when pursuing libel lawsuits against their critics.

Americans For Prosperity – Georgia, a conservative group that is now trying to broaden its range of interests, is based in Peachtree City. Bobby Rouse, the AFP’s director of grassroots engagement, sent us the statement he’ll make to the city council tonight, in opposition to the measure. It includes this:

“This resolution would require the taxpayers of Peachtree City to fund any defamation suit raised by any employee, elected official, or appointed official in the state in any public media outlet, including social media.

“The First Amendment does not protect maliciously false speech about public figures, but this ordinance allows political leaders to threaten lawsuits against efforts to hold them accountable.

“This ordinance may cause citizens to not engage in public discourse out of fear that they could be targeted with a taxpayer-funded lawsuit—and the threat of a sizeable attorney’s fee award against them.”

***

Today’s two AJC must-reads:

-- Critics of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, on Wednesday said they have enough evidence to conclude that his law practice has been built around slowing the justice system for his clients. Ralston has reportedly delayed 226 cases a total of 966 times, one investigator said at a state Capitol press conference. The AJC did not independently verify his data.

-- Georgia’s controversial Immigration Enforcement Review Board — created eight years ago to enforce local government compliance with state laws targeting illegal immigrants -- would be dissolved under a measure state lawmakers quietly approved on the final day of this year’s legislative session

In its first six years of existence, the board received 20 complaints to investigate. All but one came from the same person: D.A. King, a longtime anti-illegal immigration activist from Marietta.

***

The Latino Victory Fund will launch an effort today to draft state Rep. Brenda Lopez, D-Norcross, for the Seventh District congressional race. The seat, now held by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, will be vacant in 2020.

Several other Democrats are already in the race, including Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Georgia State University professor who narrowly missed unseating Woodall last year.

The Mexico-born Lopez became the first Latina elected to the state Legislature in 2016.

Among those endorsing the effort to draw her into the race: State House Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville; James Beverly of Macon, the House Democratic chair; state Reps. Pedro Marin of Duluth and Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain; and Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Chairman Jason Esteves. 

***

This is sure to be an emotional moment: Democrat Stacey Abrams will head back to her native Mississippi on May 5 to deliver the commencement address at Tougaloo College. The historically black college, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, is also her parents’ alma mater. 

***

Stockbridge businessman and 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain doesn’t plan to withdraw his name from consideration to join the Federal Reserve board of governors, even though he may not have enough support to be confirmed by the Senate. The Wall Street Journal caught up with the ex. Georgia U.S. Senate contender, who said he’s “very committed” to staying the course on the vetting process:

He said the Fed needs “new voices” and it has been “too quick” to raise interest rates in the past, a view he expressed to Mr. Trump and his top economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow in a meeting in late January at the White House.

“The president asked me one simple question…He said, ’Would you consider doing this if you make it through the process?’ I said yes. Didn’t hesitate,” Mr. Cain said during the interview at his office in suburban Atlanta.

President Trump has yet to formally nominate Cain for the advisory position, but four Republican senators have indicated they would oppose his nomination because of past sexual harassment allegations and his conservative activism. If all Democrats stick together, Cain won’t have the votes to be confirmed by the Senate. Trump has deferred to Cain on whether he wants to continue with the confirmation process.

***

In an interview with 11Alive, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, says she nearly lost her life giving birth to her son. From the Atlanta TV station’s website:

The congresswoman is drawing attention to Black Maternal Health Week. She joined more than 50 other Congress members who are on a mission to address the mortality crisis for black women who die at high rates or deal with complications from childbirth.

 McBath’s unarmed son, Jordan Davis, died at the hands of a white gunman in 2012.

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