Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton during a September debate.

The Jolt: A critic of Speaker David Ralston heads for the state Capitol

U.S. Army veteran and commercial pilot Philip Singleton, who failed in a bid for Congress last year, has won the special runoff election for a Newnan-area seat in the state House, dealing a blow to the chamber’s powerful speaker and his allies.

Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu has details here.

Singleton defeated Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison — a private school teacher and daughter of former Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland, 58.86% (2,558 votes) to 41.14% (1,788 votes). Turnout was a dismal 9.34% of 46,711 registered voters.

Both Singleton and Sakrison are Republicans.

Sakrison had the support of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and much of the district’s business community, but Singleton was backed by a more conservative GOP faction that controls the party apparatus in Coweta County, where 96% of ballots were cast. The small slice of House District 71 that is in Fayette County generated 167 votes.

In his campaign, Singleton was openly critical of Speaker Ralston for using his status as a state lawmaker to win delays for clients – in criminal and civil cases -- of his private law practice. But this contest was about more than Ralston’s troubles. It was also about policy shifts the speaker has emphasized, on transit and social issues -- in part to protect suburban Republican seats.

Singleton replaces David Stover, R-Newnan, who resigned this summer and was also a Ralston critic.

The anti-Ralston wing of the House Republican caucus was crackling with excitement after the blowout. State Rep. David Clark of Buford, who authored a stymied resolution that called for the speaker to resign his leadership post, wrote that Ralston’s “corrupt money couldn’t buy the race.”

“Elections belong to the people,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must exercise our right to vote because Singleton and so many other veterans have fought/died to protect it.”

Ralston’s critics are already gearing up for the next battleground: The special election to replace state Rep. Ed Rynders, an Albany Republican who resigned last month.

A first vote is scheduled for Nov. 5, which would be followed by a Dec. 3 runoff if necessary.

“Conservatives all over Georgia are celebrating Philip’s big victory,” said Debbie Dooley, a tea party activist who has pushed for Ralston’s ouster. “Now we go on to Valdosta and defeat Ralston’s candidate there.”

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A U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Montana state tax credit scholarship program that was ruled unconstitutional could have implications for a similar operation in Georgia. The high court will soon weigh whether to overturn a Montana state supreme court ruling that ended the program because it benefited private religious schools. Here’s more from Education Week:

A ruling in favor of parents seeking to use the scholarships at religious schools could affect state constitutional provisions in at least 37 states that bar the inclusion of religious schools in educational choice programs such as vouchers, tax credits for scholarship donations, individual tax credits or deductions, and education savings accounts.

The Montana program, passed by a Republican-majority legislature in 2015 and modeled on similar programs in 18 other states, is quite small, authorizing $150 annual tax credits for scholarship contributions. Big Sky Scholarships, the only scholarship organization to emerge so far, provides $500 scholarships each year to about 40 families.

One of those states is Georgia, where the Goal Scholarship Program provides tax credits of as much as $1,000 for individual donors, $2,500 for married donors and $10,000 for corporate donors.

The system has been embedded in Georgia law since 2008 and amended and expanded three times, including a 2018 measure that set aside $100 million worth of credits in 2020.

The program is also at the center of a long-simmering political debate. Stacey Abrams branded it a“backdoor voucher” program during her 2018 run for governor, and other Democrats have said it undercuts the state’s public school system.

Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, supported the legislation that doubled the cap from $50 million to $100 million.

The scholarships also factored into his campaign in another way: His Republican runoff rival, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, was secretly recorded saying that he supported the program’s expansion even though it was bad“a thousand different ways” -- because it would undercut another opponent.

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We’ve received countless statements from Republican lawmakers that have trashed the U.S. House impeachment inquiry, but the one from U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson caught our eye. The West Point Republican called the probe “the last gasp of the swamp dwellers,” and attributed the move to Democratic pessimism about the party’s presidential chances in 2020.

“It is increasingly apparent that [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [U.S. Rep.] Adam Schiff created a partisan whistleblower to piece together an impeachment argument. Even then, they had to heavily edit the transcript of the President's phone call to make it look untoward,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The “read out” of the phone call was not a transcript, but a summary. And it was released last week by the White House.

When we followed up with Ferguson to get more clarity on exactly what he was alluding to, he mentioned an article circulating around right-wing media outlets about a Schiff staffer visiting Ukraine after the whistleblower complaint was filed, and comments Pelosi made on “60 Minutes’” referencing the transcript of Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart before it was made public.

“There are just a lot of pieces coming together that it just seems a little bit more than a coincidence,” Ferguson said. A spokeswoman for Pelosi has said the House speaker didn’t get an advanced look at the transcript, but was speaking of information already in the “public domain.”

According to our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree, Republican opinions like Ferguson’s were undercut on Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who said the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry should not be attacked, and had followed proper procedures in raising questions about a phone call between the President and the leader of Ukraine.

"This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected," Grassley said in a written statement.

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We also asked U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson about whether he plans to apply for Johnny Isakson’s U.S. Senate seat. The two-term congressman played coy, refusing to rule it out but also suggesting he was happy where he was. Judge for yourself: 

“We are working very hard in the House. I’m enjoying my role there, both in House leadership and representing the district, and we’re right now focused on doing what we can for the state of Georgia and the Third District. When I wake up every day, that’s what I think about doing: how we serve our constituents, how we fight back about socialism and take back the majority.” 

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This Washington Post article caught our eye this morning:

U.S. manufacturing fell deeper into a contraction last month, erasing hope of a quick turnaround for the industry and handing a blow to President Trump’s promises that he would revive blue-collar jobs and companies.

September marked the worst month for U.S. manufacturing in more than a decade — since June 2009 — according to the closely watched Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index. Companies blamed Trump’s escalating trade war for many of their woes, putting pressure on the White House to show progress soon. Manufacturing remains a prominent industry in many swing states.

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