The Jolt: On endorsing a state Capitol revolution before you get there

We are less than two weeks away from finding out whether a Republican can win election to the state House by advocating the overthrow of the Republican speaker of said state House.

On Tuesday evening, the Newnan-Coweta Chamber hosted a debate between the two runoff survivors in the race for the House District 71 seat vacated this summer by David Stover, R-Newnan. The final vote comes Oct. 1.

Stover’s service in the House was notable on two counts – a high rate of absenteeism and membership in a faction of the GOP caucus that had demanded Speaker David Ralston’s resignation. Among other things, the group pointed to Ralston’s misuse of his status as a state legislator to win court delays – some of them stretching out years -- for the civil and criminal clients of his private law firm.

In large part, the debate between military veteran Philip Singleton, the top vote-getter on Sept. 3, and Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison pivoted on Stover’s legacy. Click here to judge for yourself.

Sakrison is the daughter of former congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who now sits on the state Board of Transportation. As befitting a second-place finisher, Sakrison went on the attack, accusing Singleton of smearing her by alleging that she supported the extension of MARTA into Coweta County – something that MARTA bylaws would not allow.

“My opponent’s fascination with MARTA is nothing short of a dog whistle. I am in no one’s pocket,” she said.

Sakrison also declared that in 2018, Singleton had attempted to run for the Third District congressional seat – once held by her father and now held by Republican Drew Ferguson – as a Democrat and an independent before running as a Republican. Singleton did not dispute the allegation.

But it was community clout in the state House – and how that might be achieved, that dominated the 45-minute debate. Singleton was asked a question about budget cuts ordered by Gov. Brian Kemp this summer. A portion of his response:

“It’s a very difficult process. I think, last year, Matt Gurtler was the only one who voted against the budget. Typically, everyone gets in line. It’s one of those things you have to be able to stand against.

“To understand the dynamics happening in the Capitol, the establishment that’s running things in the House, they have an iron grip on Speaker Ralston and their group on the way the budgetary process goes. That’s why the governor has to fight. It’s a challenge to get them to cut anything. Not all conservatives are small, limited government conservatives.”

The response from Sakrison:

“Unless you keep those relationships strong, you’re not going to get the projects for your district. It’s just the way it is. Even when you go to the appropriations committee, you’ve got to have a relationship with them. You can call it the establishment, you can call it anything else. But it’s called relationships….We have been turned down for many DOT projects because somebody didn’t show up, or the way they handled themselves in business.”

Singleton pointed out that Sakrison’s father represents the area on the DOT board. But then the frontrunner again turned his attention to Ralston.

Singleton said that “one of the many reasons House Speaker David Ralston needs to resign or step down” was the Legislature’s failure to erase Common Core – a set of voluntary educational standards that has been criticized for its emphasis on testing – from the curriculum of the state’s public schools.

One could assume that rebuilding connections with the state Capitol is a priority within the Coweta business community, given this statement from the moderator:

“Crucially, as a representative, you will be the face and voice of your district. …People will notice when you don’t show up, and your district will pay for it if you manage to alienate your fellow legislators and other state leaders.”

Asked to respond to his point, Singleton said:

“It’s a false question to assume that if you stand on principles, that it’s automatically combative. Some people tend to view it that way. There’s a way to stand up for your principles and stand up to the speaker of the House and say, ‘Look, the way you’re behaving is immoral…But you can do that in a way – the intent is not to cause chaos or to cause disruption. The intent is to get real meaningful legislation passed.”

Said Sakrison:

“If you say no to everything, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.”

***

A white supremacist rally in Dahlonega over the weekend has triggered an unusual political response: A handful of Democratic officials in nearby Chattooga County have bolted the party.

The revolt was triggered by a Facebook post from Sheriff Mark Schrader after he inaccurately wrote that he and other officers were helping law enforcement monitor the “antifa protests.” 

He soon took down the post and apologized for his remarks, but the wave of criticism he received from people who identified themselves as Democrats factored into his decision to side with the GOP.

“I must admit that the comments and threats… have made me think more deeply on the things that I have been contemplating for some time,” he wrote in a letter obtained by The Summerville News on his decision to leave the county party. 

That wasn’t all. The local WDEF radio and TV outlet reported that Chief Magistrate Tracy Maddux, Tax Commissioner Joy Hampton and Clerk of Courts Kim James also left the Democratic party this week. 

The Chattooga County Democratic Party, meanwhile, tried to stamp out rumors that it was behind the online criticism of Schrader. It sent out a statement that said its members didn’t “share the post or comment on the post.”

“We respect Sheriff Schrader and his handling of the situation. We appreciate the many years of service that all of our Democratic elected officials have provided to the citizens of this county,” read the statement

The northwest Georgia county is a staunch Republican stronghold that Gov. Brian Kemp carried with about 80% of the vote last year. But like some rural Georgia counties, it’s also home to conservative Democrats who refused to switch parties even as Republicans took control of state offices. 

***

Kyle Hayes of PeachPod, a Georgia political podcast,posted a lengthy interview with Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico yesterday. The U.S. Senate candidate and former lieutenant governor hopeful elaborated on her recent call for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to resign. While she didn't walk it back -- the New York Times, which published a new allegation against Kavanaugh over the weekend, followed by a lengthy acknowledgement that relevant information had been omitted -- Amico's had definitely shifted her tone: 

“What I’ve said publicly on Sunday and what I still believe and what I think a lot of Americans believe is that there wasn’t a proper process, there wasn’t a thorough investigation. There were corroborating witnesses. There were additional incidents reported. There were elected officials in the federal government who asked for further investigation and information. And none of that was vetted properly. This guy was rammed through the process at a federal level and we’re now unfortunately dealing with the consequences of that decision. 

I think this isn’t just about the Supreme Court. This is about the entire judiciary... Look, I think these are serious allegations against Justice Kavanaugh. They should have been properly investigated at the time of his confirmation hearing. The federal government, for whatever reasons, failed to do that, and I think these are conversations that still need to be had as a result. But this is a much bigger question than just about Justice Kavanaugh.” 

Listen for yourself around the 41:00 mark.

***

As we noted this morning, state Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols has joined the growing crowd to apply online for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat. 

The Republican sent a note to donors earlier this week asking for advice. “I wanted to see what you thought about me submitting my name,” he wrote. “I know it is a long shot.” 

***

The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s annual book festival has landed some big names for its final week. 

Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will headline the event on Nov. 17. And Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, will speak with her daughter Chelsea on Nov. 18.

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