The rainbow crosswalks of 10th and Piedmont Avenue in a 2015 file photo. JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM

The Jolt: A biscuit backlash in the ‘religious liberty’ debate

The owner of a Flying Biscuit restaurant in the heart of one of Atlanta’s most vibrant gay neighborhoods is under pressure to renounce his support for the Republican candidate for governor. 

The folks at Project Q reported that Joseph Hsiao claims the backlash over his $2,000 in contributions to Kemp is a “misunderstanding.” Hsiao owns the Flying Biscuit at 10th and Piedmont, home to Atlanta’s rainbow crosswalks. From Project Q: 

“We support various organizations, schools, churches and neighborhoods,” Hsiao said. “We do not discriminate against anyone. As a matter of fact, I have many friends that are part of the LGBTQ community. “Hsiao also claimed he’s “done events” for Democratic candidates including Ethan Pham, Bee Nguyen and Alex Wan, the gay former Atlanta City Councilmember.

“The contribution was misconstrued. We're focused on [Kemp's] four-point plan to work with small businesses like ours,” Hsiao said.

Jamie Ensley of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT group that endorsed Kemp, tweeted this response:

Georgia LCR denounces the intolerant liberal left’s attempts to attack a small business owner who has been nothing but kind and supportive of the LGBTQ community.

The debate doesn’t stop with Hsiao or his Flying Biscuit operation. Over at Atlanta magazine, Steve Fennesy writes of the backlash faced by Monday Night Brewing, a nightspot in northwest Atlanta, for hosting a National Federation of Independent Business fundraiser for Kemp. Quoting Joel Iverson, one of three co-owners:

“We were not Kemp supporters, many of our employees are very against him, and we realized there was probably nothing but downside from a PR perspective to having him come here,” Iverson wrote. “But ultimately we decided to do it anyway because we felt it was more consistent with both our purpose as a company, and because we have never refused any politician coming to our facility as a policy.”

On Thursday, Democrats took a dig at Republican Brian Kemp for an omission in his press conference earlier this week touting an anti-gang crackdown. 

What he didn’t mention, said party chair DuBose Porter, is that Democrat Stacey Abrams voted in 2010 for the “Georgia Criminal Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.” Said Porter:

“We thank him for the appreciation of our work on the anti-gang legislation,” said Porter, who added that he wants to tell Kemp: “You were not in the legislature, you were not a part of it, but Stacey Abrams certainly was.”

Though Kemp didn’t mention that measure, he did cite her vote against a “Back the Badge” proposal that increased penalties for offenders who commit crimes against law enforcement officers. 

It faced pushback from some Democrats who opposed a section of the bill that was later removed that targeted individuals who blocked public passages, such as highways, streets and sidewalks.


While we’re on the topic of gangs: Here’s a paragraph in a joint press release sent out Thursday by Brian Kemp and Chris Carr, the Republican candidates for governor and attorney general respectively:

According to law enforcement, Georgia has 71,000 gang members and over 1,500 suspected gang networks statewide. 157 counties and 155 school systems have reported a rise in gang activity.

The claim of 71,000 gang members in Georgia requires scrutiny. This isn’t intended as a shot at Kemp or Carr, because Charlie Bailey, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has used similar figures. Nor are we denying the existence of gangs or the crimes they commit.

But 71,000 is a big number. The Georgia National Guard musters in the neighborhood of 11,000 citizen-soldiers. At the height of the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Potomac under Ulysses Grant stood at 61,000 men. Robert E. Lee commanded 31,000.

By the above estimation, if gangs were a school system in Georgia, they would be one of the largest in the state, right under Fulton County and its student population of 95,000. The entire student population in the city of Atlanta is only 51,000.

So 71,000 is a figure that needs to explain itself -- how it was arrived at, how it can prove itself. We understand the need to be alert, but we also know that inflated numbers can lead to fear, and that fear is often considered a useful tool in political seasons.


Jamie Dupree of WSB Radio writes of a shift in Republican focus when it comes to federal spending:

The deficit numbers from August were not good. Another month where revenues dropped, and spending increased from a year ago, as Uncle Sam ran up a $214 billion deficit in August, pushing the overall deficit to almost $900 billion, over $230 billion more than all of 2017.

The way the numbers are going right now, President Trump could run up more in deficits in his first two years in office than the Obama Administration did in its final three years. Unless there is a big change, President Trump will have deficits over $1 trillion in 2019. As a reporter, I have to say how odd it is to see the GOP silent on the budget.


President Donald Trump is expected to soon put his signature on a bill requiring an audit of the dangerously high levels of lead paint found in homes at several U.S. military bases, including Georgia’s Fort Benning. Congress tucked the provision into a $148 billion federal spending bill this week. It comes shortly after Reuters published an investigation about lead poisoning in privatized housing at Benning and other bases across the country. 

The language requires the Pentagon’s internal watchdog to “conduct an investigation and submit a report to the congressional defense committees on toxic lead levels at military housing on all installations,” according to CQ Roll Call. Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson had spearheaded the inclusion ofsimilar language into another government spending bill last month.

The same bill includes $49 million for the Savannah harbor expansion project, $99 million for the cyber instructional facility at Fort Gordon near Augusta and more than $13 million for a Navy Reserve Training Center at Benning.


Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also cleared a water infrastructure bill this week that upped the federal government’s overall financial commitment to the dredging of the Port of Savannah. Additionally, Georgia lawmakers beat back attempts to include language related to the state’s water wars with Florida and Alabama. “This is a fantastic bill for Georgia, the entire region, and it’s a great bill for America,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, who helped negotiate the measure.


Why buy a piece of small town life when you can own the whole thing? Toomsboro, Ga., or at least most of it, is apparently for sale. The community, which boasted 444 residents in 2016, sits a few miles east of Macon. From the prospectus:

It is one of the few places where you can buy a whole town with every kind of building including a historic inn, a syrup mill, an opera house, a school house, a railroad depot, a cotton warehouse, a restaurant, a barbershop, a water wheel, a grist mill, a work shop, a filling station, and several houses.

The owners are hoping to see the Toomsboro real estate property in the right hands. New owners that understand it's uniqueness and the importance of preserving historic properties. Once you see the heart pine flooring and original tile one will understand why the preservation is so important.

The asking price is $1.7 million. We’ve been here before. The actress Kim Bassinger once purchased the town of Braselton. From the AJC archives:

[I]n early 1990, she and a group of business partners decided to use $20 million to buy a bank, industrial park, 50 buildings and 1,700 acres of land in the town. Basinger dreamed of turning it all into a “major” film and recording studio, with the added bonus of a theme park, homes and shopping centers.

That dream fell flat, nothing ever really happened and Basinger’s group re-sold the property for just $4.3 million in 1995.


Never miss a minute of what’s happening in Georgia Politics. Subscribe to