February 4, 2020 - Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp announced legislation Tuesday to “reduce high-stakes K-12 testing in Georgia.” Kemp and state school Superintendent Richard Woods traveled the state over the summer talking with teachers and parents about the number of tests Georgia's students take each year, which they say is too many. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres/Bob Andres

The Jolt: Brian Kemp celebrates smoother budget talks, thanks press for ‘continuing to fan flames’

On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp’s top budget-writer began his second appearance before lawmakers at the state Capitol by apologizing for the first.

Three weeks earlier, Kelly Farr, director of the state Office of Planning and Budget, had stone-walled lawmakers asking pointed questions about Kemp’s budget plans, which call for an immediate 4% cut and 6% more for next year.

House Speaker David Ralston was not pleased. “I was offended,” he said. The Legislature went into recess and won’t resume official business until next Tuesday. It is hard to negotiate with an offended House speaker, and so this happened:

“The last time I was up here, I didn’t meet the expectations of what y’all thought I was going to talk about. But obviously, that was my fault,” Farr said two days ago. “I didn’t expect any questions about the governor’s proposal.” (Thanks to WSB-TV’s Richard Elliot for the sound clip)

A Kemp aide even sent us this Power Point presentation intended to correct what she thought were some of the misinterpretations of the governor’s intentions, as expressed by Ralston and other lawmakers.

“I cannot tell you how encouraged I am about this dialogue,” said House Appropriations Vice Chairman Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn. “It’s much better than a monologue.”

On Wednesday, in remarks to a scrum of reporters captured by Rahu Bali of GPB’s “Lawmakers,” Governor Kemp joined in the effort to smooth things over.

“I think things, in the last couple of days, have gone great. I got good feedback from the legislators about the presentations that they’ve gotten. We remain open and transparent about working with the legislators,” Kemp said.

But the governor couldn’t resist sharing the blame.

“I certainly would like to thank the press for continuing to fan the flames on all things around the Capitol, but look, this is part of the process,” Kemp said. “The speaker’s got his priorities. We’ve worked together for a long time. We’re going to get it worked out – people are up here to fight.”

You’re welcome, governor.

***

Another sign of Mike Bloomberg’s interest in Georgia’s March 24 primary: Diana Taylor, his longtime partner, is set to be in town today for a service project, a meet-and-greet with local Democrats and a private dinner. 

She’ll start with an event at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, then attend the Hyatt’s Annual Heritage Celebration honoring Dr. Bernice King before heading to a “Women for Mike” gathering with Sonya Halpern, a major Democratic donor, and Atlanta City Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet, who recently endorsed him. 

As centrist Democrats are starting to contemplate a ballot without Joe Biden, the billionaire former New York mayor is among their options. 

But he’s facing increasing questions about his support of stop-and-frisk policies and other incendiary remarks, including his claim in 2008 that the elimination of the discriminatory “redlining” housing practice contributed to the Great Recession.

***

A tax expert for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute think tank says a second 0.25% cut in the state income tax, advocated by some lawmakers, will cost $615 million in annual state revenue – up $65 million from a previous estimate, according to our AJC colleague James Salzer.

***

Georgia’s political and judicial elite gathered this week to celebrate the opening of the new Nathan Deal Judicial Center. 

It was a nonpartisan moment, cemented by a speech from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that judges stick to the law and not their preconceived biases.

Left unmentioned were the more political machinations at the Capitol across the street, including proposed cuts to accountability courts and the public defender system, and a shift in approach away from Deal’s criminal justice strategy.

The Democratic Party of Georgia took note of the silence, issuing a statement that claimed Kemp was “going after the bipartisan progress Nathan Deal built his legacy on.” Said party spokeswoman Maggie Chambers:

“Both Republicans and Democrats can agree that Deal’s efforts boosted our economy and kept Georgians safer — but Kemp is willing to undermine Deal’s legacy and Georgia’s future in the name of his extreme agenda.”

Kemp and his allies take a different stance: That his calls for crackdowns on gang violence and sex trafficking build on Deal’s legacy.

“His work fundamentally changed the way we view nonviolent offenders, winning support from both sides of the aisle,” the governor said at the ceremony. 
And Deal told WSB’s Sandra Parrish he didn’t object to Kemp’s “tough choices” with budget cuts. 

***

A 36-year-old Cobb County jail inmate made multiple requests for medical attention before he was placed in the isolation cell where he died of a perforated ulcer on Sept. 29, according to our AJC colleague Kristal Dixon. He had no alcohol or illicit drugs in his system at the time of his death, according to the Cobb County medical examiner.

***

Floyd Scott, a Democratic candidate for sheriff in Gwinnett County, has been endorsed by former U.S. senator Max Cleland. Scott recently retired from the sheriff’s department. Longtime Republican incumbent Butch Conway recently announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in the rapidly changing county.

Scott has promised to end Gwinnett’s participation in the 287(g) program, which allows local officers to enforce federal immigration law.

***

An AJC examination of the finances of U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his three Democratic challengers has found that all involved have million-dollar backgrounds – some more so than others.

***

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, will be presented the prestigious Chairman’s Award at the NAACP Image Awards on Feb. 22. The event, where Rihanna will receive another main prize, will be aired live in BET.

***

The U.S. Senate’s Banking Committee will hold meeting today to hear from Judy Shelton, a controversial appointee to the Federal Reserve.

Shelton is longtime critic of the central bank who has advocated for unorthodox policies such as returning to the gold standard. President Donald Trump nominated her to the Federal Reserve, and the Banking Committee’s approval is needed in order for a floor vote to proceed.

Georgia’s Perdue, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, has not publicly said how he feels about Shelton’s nomination. 

***

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Georgia’s most populous counties after long lines and missing absentee ballots plagued the 2018 election.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t show how the court should intervene beyond reminding election officials they are expected to follow the law, the AJC’s Mark Niesse reported.

However, Totenberg did say that if problems persist in Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties that the plaintiffs would be justified in filing another lawsuit.

According to the Gallup polling organization, Americans are heading into their next presidential election with relatively little confidence in the honesty of the process:

Four in 10 Americans (40%) interviewed in 2019 said they are confident in the honesty of elections in the country, while the majority (59%) said they are not.

Americans' current level of confidence in their elections is far from the lowest it has been at times in the past decade, but it is notably one of the worst ratings across the world's wealthiest democracies. Ratings were statistically lower last year only in Chile (31%) and Mexico (30%).

***

Funeral services for Dorothy “Dot” Burns, 84, will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Christ Church Frederica on St. Simons Island.

Burns, who died Monday, was a pioneering member of the Republican Party of Georgia, serving as an early chair of the Hall County GOP and the Ninth Congressional District GOP.

Burns was involved in over a hundred local, state and federal elections and played leadership roles in the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Mack Mattingly, Johnny Isakson, Phil Gramm, Herman Cain and Paul Coverdell.

***

McClatchy Co. filed for bankruptcy Thursday, a move that will end family control of America’s second largest local news company and hand it to creditors who have expressed support for independent journalism, according to the Macon Telegraph. The Chapter 11 filing will allow McClatchy to restructure its debts and, it hopes, shed much of its pension obligations.

The Telegraph and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer are both McClatchy properties.

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