Gov.-elect Brian Kemp at Sunday’s Wild Hog Supper, the kickoff dinner for the 2019 Georgia legislative session. Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes

The Jolt: Brian Kemp and Democrats both have a choice to make

The clock will be ticking past 3 p.m. today before we know which Brian Kemp will be sworn in as governor – the pick up-driving, shotgun-wielding guy from the GOP primary, or the fellow from December who said "it's time to put politics behind us."

But well before today’s inaugural festivities, it was very clear which guy House Speaker David Ralston wants to see. Early Sunday, a Ralston friend pointed us to a column by Valdosta Daily Times editor Jim Zachary on Ralston’s hope to escape yet another debate over “religious liberty” legislation. “Ralston was really insightful when he said we live in a much different world than it was when President Bill Clinton signed RFRA in the ’90s,” Zachary wrote.

Then there was Sunday’s prayer convocation at the state Capitol. We don’t have the audio, but we’re told that Speaker Ralston said that his momma always told him that unnecessary rancor doesn’t make God happy.

We’re told that we’ll hear versions of that line today, and at Tuesday’s Eggs-and-Issues gathering of the Georgia Chamber.

There’s also the matter of which Democrats will show up in the House and Senate today. For months, the state party operation has previewed a more confrontational approach toward Kemp. And on the eve of his inauguration, the state party goosed up its attack.

In a series of Tweets, the party hit Kemp over the “stolen election he oversaw,” his financial struggles, and Ralston’s concerns with “religious liberty” legislation.

And then there was this: “Brian Kemp is and will always be Georgia’s Asterisk Governor.”

Also remember that state Sen. Nikema Williams of Atlanta is the leading candidate in a race for chairman of the state Democratic party, which means these tactics could bleed into the legislative session that starts today.

The Democratic stance is a notable departure, and some veterans have warned legislative colleagues not to be too abrasive toward the man who will wield sweeping power in a few hours.

“As an elected official, my job is to create public policy. That’s what I got elected to do,” Calvin Smyre, the state’s longest-serving lawmaker, said last week. “I’m going to stay in my lane. The campaign is over, the legislative session is about to start and we’ve got to get to work.”

Smyre is the ranking Democrat on a special committee on health care that Ralston named earlier this month.

***

Remember the constant campaign-trail refrain from Brian Kemp, about how gubernatorial rival Stacey Abrams wanted “people here illegally” to cast ballots?

The Democrat may have just handed her Republican critics some ammunition during an appearance last week on PBS’s “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover.” The host asked Abrams whether she approved of a San Francisco policy that allows some non-citizens to vote in local races. The former Democratic candidate for governor didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no, either.

Click here for the video, but here’s a transcript: 

Margaret Hoover: “What is your view about some municipalities like San Francisco who have decided that it's okay for some non-citizens to vote in local election?”

Stacey Abrams: “I think there's a difference between municipal and state and federal. Part of the municipality -- I'm not arguing for it or against it but I will say, having been deputy city attorney, there is a very-- the granularity of what cities decide is so specific as to, I think, allow for people to be participants in the process without it somehow undermining our larger democratic ethic that says that you should be a citizen to be a part of the conversation.”

Margaret Hoover: “So, in some cases you would be supportive of non-citizens?”

Stacey Abrams: “I wouldn't be, I wouldn't oppose it. I mean, I actually think that there are some cases where 16-year-olds should be allowed to cast their vote and cast their ballot. I think school board elections where kids actually got to speak to the effect of the decisions made by the school board members--the effect it has on their education, I think there is legitimate argument for having that conversation. I haven't decided where I stand on it, but I think that's a conversation we need to have.”

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