Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp gives his remarks at the grand opening of Coda, the latest addition to Technology Square, at 756 West Peachtree Street Northwest in downtown Atlanta, Ga., on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes

The Jolt: Doubt creeps into Brian Kemp’s economic forecast

The nation’s economy is hitting on all eight cylinders, President Donald Trump insisted this morning – again. From the Associated Press:

“I don’t think we’re having a recession,” Trump told reporters as he returned to Washington from his New Jersey golf club. “We’re doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they’re loaded up with money.”

A strong economy is key to Trump’s re-election prospects. Consumer confidence has dropped 6.4% since July.

And yet the effects of his trade war with China linger. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Atlanta-based Home Depot has lowered its sales forecast in the face of rising costs. And we are only two months away from Britain’s hard “Brexit” from the European Union, which could offer yet another blow to the world economy.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post report this morning that the Trump administration is considering a payroll tax reduction to juice consumer spending.

And so, in his Monday address to the Gwinnett Chamber, it was not a surprise to hear a note of doubt creep into Gov. Brian Kemp’s remarks. As you might expect, much of his speech was chock full of optimism. But there was also this:

“We’ve had a great run,” Kemp said. “I don’t think the economy will stay quite as good for me as through the (Gov. Nathan) Deal years, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed …

“There’s just things happening around the world that are a little frustrating - you can’t really control them, so we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got to deal with,” he said.

Earlier this month, Kemp sent a memo to state agencies, telling them to offer 4% cuts to their budgets this year and 6 percent in fiscal 2021, which begins next July 1.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has ordered his chamber's appropriations committee to hold rare fall hearings on the state budget ahead of the January legislative session.

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Abortion rights groups are finding new ways to push back against restrictions that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law. Count “bird-dogging” among them.

NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia is offering training on how to “follow, watch carefully, or investigate” election officials, ask them pointed questions and capture their answers on video.

In a letter to Republican Senate members, Joshua Edmonds of the Georgia Life Alliance wrote this week that he recently watched several members of the audience ask state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, the sponsor of the “heartbeat” abortion restrictions, ask “pointed and hostile” questions to him about the bill.

Among them: “Do you support criminalizing abortion in Georgia?” and “Should a fetus have the same legal protections as any human?”

Edmonds said one of Setzler’s interrogators dropped some papers while leaving the event. “Despite my typical inclination to pick up and return those papers, a still small voice told me to wait,” wrote Edmonds. “After the individual departed the premises and the venue cleared, I took possession of those papers.”

He shared a three-page document he said he found that detailed a “statewide bird dogging effort by NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia to capture ‘gotcha moments.’”

Our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu got ahold of Edmonds’ email. Among the guidelines, which are not particularly nefarious:

-- “Be calm: It can become a very intense environment so stick to your talking points and remain calm.” 

-- “Ask them generally the same question repeatedly. You can change up the wording slightly at times.” 

-- “As soon as you have access to the politician, ask your question. The time you have is very brief so you want to utilize every second.” 

Laura Simmons, state director for NARAL in Georgia, told Prabhu that bird dogging is a way to hold legislators accountable.

“Questioning them is just one of the ways we’re going to continue to show up,” Simmons said. “They played politics with women’s lives and we’re going to make sure voters know that.”

Nor are these town-hall instructions all that unusual. We’ve seen them issued from the right in the tea party years, and from gun violence activists after mass shooting.

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About 1,000 people attended Monday evening’s town hall meeting at the Cobb County Civic Center, urging state and federal environmental agencies to do more to ensure the safety of those living near a Smyrna plant that sterilizes medical devices using a carcinogenic gas known as ethylene oxide.

The meeting was heavily populated by local government officials from Cobb County, Smyrna, Fulton County and the city of Atlanta.

Afterwardstwo Democratic state lawmakers who represent the area surrounding the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County called on Gov. Brian Kemp to shut down the sterilization facility until testing can prove it is not violating emissions regulations for a cancer-causing gas.

State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, and state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, said Kemp should follow the lead of Illinois, which closed a Sterigenics facility near Chicago last year after concerns about emissions of ethylene oxide, a gas used to sterilize medical components. The compound has been deemed a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“If you don’t know what to do here it is,” Jordan said of what Illinois regulators did. “We have a road map for how this should play out here.”

Kemp is meeting today with executives from Sterigenics and BD Bard, a plant in Covington with a similar emissions problem. The governor said through a spokesman he would “do what it takes” to protect Georgians from harmful emissions. 

***

Worse, children, they even phoned public servants…after hours! A grim but true fairy tale, from the Washington Post:

The Malheur Enterprise, a small newspaper in eastern Oregon, spent months investigating a state lawmaker’s business deals and contract work in Malheur County. But on Monday, the newspaper reported an unusual development: Now the county wants to investigate the Malheur Enterprise — for harassment.

The problem? Reporters made too many phone calls and sent too many emails, at least in the eyes of local government officials.

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In other newspaper developments, we’ve neglected to mention that the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer is ending publication of its Saturday print edition. That day’s news will be digital-only.

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Two more state lawmakers have made their picks in the Democratic race for president. State Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah and state Rep. David Dreyer of Atlanta both said they will back Cory Booker’s bid for the White House in part because of the New Jersey senator’s recently-unveiled plan to combat hate crimes, violence and the rise of white nationalism.

***

Here’s a lead paragraph we didn’t expect to see in a news story. Or maybe we did. From Politico:

Newt Gingrich and an eclectic band of NASA skeptics are trying to sell President Donald Trump on a reality show-style plan to jump-start the return of humans to the moon — at a fraction of the space agency’s estimated price tag.

The former Georgia lawmaker is among those pitching Trump on a $2 billion sweepstakes that would pit billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos against one another to establish an American base on the moon, according to the news site. NASA’s current plan, which involves defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has a projected price tag of more than $50 billion.

You will recall that during his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Gingrich pitched something quite similar. Via ABC News:

Speaking to a yet another massive crowd in Cocoa Beach, on Florida's space coast, Gingrich ditched his stump speech and offered his vision of an ambitious new space program. "By the end of my second term," Gingrich said, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause, "we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American."

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It’s safe to say the political arm of the U.S. House Democratic caucus is closely monitoring the racy comments from two fringe candidates for Georgia’s Sixth District. 

They would be Donnie Bolena, who briefly dropped out of the race after calling himself a “white nationalist,” and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been spotlighted on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” blog. 

Democrats are eagerly trying to tie those two contenders to the more mainstream Republicans seeking the seat: state Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta and former congresswoman Karen Handel. 

Avery Jaffe of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said “the far-right, extremist views espoused by Donnie Bolena and Marjorie Taylor Greene should be deeply concerning to individuals like Brandon Beach and Karen Handel, who thus far are playing far-right footsie by failing to vociferously call out the radical beliefs seeping into the mainstream of their party."

Whew. We recommend a few more periods in his next message.

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