House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: A Democratic effort to flip the state House might be harder than it looks

We’ll expound on this in a weekend post, but last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abandons court oversight over political gerrymandering is likely to put a primary focus on two dozen or so state House races in 2020.

Winning control of that chamber is the only chance Georgia Democrats have to win a seat at the table that will control redistricting in 2021, after the U.S. census. Currently, Republicans control 105 seats in the 180-member chamber. Democrats, who now number 75, would need a pick up of 15-plus seats in 2020. That may be harder than it sounds. Let’s lay out a few numbers:

-- Last November, in Georgia’s race for governor, Republican Brian Kemp beat Democrat Stacey Abrams, 50.2% to 48.83%. In raw numbers, Kemp received 1,978,408 votes to 1,923,685 for Abrams – a spread of 1.37 percentage points. It was close.

-- But if you add up all the votes cast in state House races, the picture changes slightly – in favor of the GOP. Republican candidates in state House races racked up 1,884, 211 votes in November, according to AJC number-cruncher Jennifer Peebles. Democratic votes amounted to 1,582,161.

That’s 54% for Republicans and 46% for Democrats, a much larger, 8 percentage point spread. (Current district lines make the actual power spread even wider. Republicans hold 58% percent of House seats, compared to 42% for Democrats.)

-- On the Republican side, votes for state House seats numbered only 94,197 fewer than those cast for Kemp – a 5% difference. Among Democrats, votes in House races numbered 341,524 ballots fewer than those cast for Abrams. That’s an 18% difference, more than three times greater than on the GOP side.

-- A lack of opposition for Republican incumbents isn’t a sufficient explanation for this difference between the two parties. Last Nov. 6, 57 House Republicans, more than half the caucus, were unopposed. But 52 House Democrats, more than two-thirds of that caucus, also lacked opposition.

-- One likely explanation is simply the person of Stacey Abrams and the campaign waged in her name. Which means the hurdle for Democrats will be channeling that energy into a campaign without her in 2020.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, implied that others have reached this conclusion. This week, he sent over a list of 22 House seats that were won by Republicans – but also went for Abrams by more than 40%. Of those 22, 15 went for Abrams by more than 45%.

Many, but not all, were in suburban Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta.

***

Gov. Brian Kemp quietly appointed former congressman Bob Barr to the judicial watchdog agency this week, despite the apparent concerns of one of the state’s most respected jurists. 

The governor signed an executive order that was posted online Thursday to tap Barr to the Judicial Qualifications Committee, weeks after Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias reportedly sought to block the nomination. 

Channel 2 Action News reporter Richard Belcher reported last month that Nahmias contacted Kemp’s executive counsel David Dove to try to derail the appointment, though it was uncertain precisely why. 

Barr is, like Nahmias, an ex-federal prosecutor. Barr also ran for president as a Libertarian in 2008.

We previously reached out to both Nahmias and Kemp, and both declined comment through their aides.

***

Georgia Republican David Perdue and other Senate allies of the Trump administration are urging the White House to abandon its fallback plan for avoiding fiscal calamity this fall. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the White House budget office's top official, Perdue and 14 other Senate Republicans reject the plan recently floated by the administration in case it can't strike a government funding deal with Democrats. Under the White House proposal, all federal agencies would be funded under a one-year stopgap starting on Oct. 1 and the debt ceiling would be raised for a year. 

The Senate Republicans warn that plan would be "draconian" for the military. The Defense Department "would be incapable of increasing readiness, recapitalizing our force, or rationalizing funding to align with the (president's National Defense Strategy)," the group wrote. Perdue was the letter's lead author, notable given his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee and close relationship with President Trump. 

***

A prominent Atlantan is among the all-female U.S. delegation the Trump White House is sending to Sunday's FIFA Women's World Cup championship. Kelly Loeffler, CEO of Bakkt and co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, will join a half-dozen senior government officials who will watch the U.S. women take on the Netherlands in Lyon, France. 

The multimillionaire has been a prominent Republican donor in Georgia, and has even been mentioned as a potential candidate for office. The former InterContinental Exchange executive bought an ownership stake in Atlanta's WNBA team back in 2011. 

***

As it often does at its Fourth of July gathering, the Cobb County GOP on Wednesday conducted a straw poll of next year’s hottest primaries.

Commission Chairman Mike Boyce lost a hypothetical primary contest against Commissioner Bob Ott, 103 to 79, according to Cobb GOP chairman Jason Shepherd.

Boyce has announced his bid to seek re-election. Ott has been mum on the topic. (Louie Hunter, who had been advertised as a potential candidate, asked that his name not be included, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.)

In the Sixth District congressional contest, former congresswoman Karen Handel blew the competition away with 111 votes. The rest of the field:

-- Marjorie Taylor Green, 49 votes;

-- Nicole Rodden, 29 votes;

-- Brandon Beach, 24 votes;

-- and Kenneth Brown, 18 votes.

Note that women finished first, second and third, with 82 percent of 231 ballots cast.

***

Also at the Cobb GOP gathering, Taryn Chilivis Bowman announced another bid for the House District 40 seat flipped by Democrats last year.

Bowman lost to Matt Bentley in last May’s GOP primary, 66% to 34%. The Smyrna-based seat, once home to Republican Rich Golick, is now held by state Rep. Erik Allen, D-Smyrna.

Bowman is the owner of a business connected to Georgia’s film industry called Cast My Home, LLC.

***

We would be greatly remiss if we didn’t note that Robert Williams, editor and publisher of the Blackshear Times newspaper, has announced that he and his wife Cheryl have sold the Pierce County enterprise to MC Gardner Publishing Company, Inc.

Williams has been a statewide voice on press matters for decades, especially on the Georgia coast. The newspaper is 150 years old – the oldest business in Blackshear.

This area’s oldest business, The Blackshear Times, is 150 years old this year and is changing ownership for the first time in nearly 50 of those years.

***

Soybeans aren’t a dominant cash crop in Georgia, according to the University of Georgia extension service. Blame frequent droughts and a latitude that results in too much daylight.

Soybeans don’t even crack the state’s top 10 export commodities. Still, an average annual planting of 180,000 acres isn’t anything to sneeze at. So a good slice of south Georgia might be interested in a Wall Street Journal report published this week, looking at the turmoil the U.S.-China trade war has created in soybean fields across the U.S.

In 2017, soybeans were the top crop export by the U.S. – amounting to $21 billion, thanks to a generational effort to respond to Chinese tastes. Sayeth the WSJ:

That marked a tripling in two decades, the fruit of a sweeping effort, by nearly every arm of U.S. agriculture, to build a once-obscure crop into a blockbuster.

Then last year, sunk by a bitter trade dispute, American soybean exports to China plunged 74% by volume. Brazil raced to fill the gap, while prices paid to U.S. farmers recently slid to a seven-year low.

…Brazil, which overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest soybean exporter several years ago, stands to gain ground. The U.S. share of world soybean exports is expected to drop to 31% this season, the lowest on record, while Brazil’s portion is forecast to swell to 52%, which would be its largest ever.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X