State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Geoff Duncan brokers fix to ‘draconian’ Senate rules on sexual harassment

On Monday’s edition of GPB’s “Political Rewind,” state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan would soon propose changes to Senate rules governing the treatment of sexual harassment complaints against senators and members of the chamber’s staff.

Prompted by Rewind host Bill Nigut, Jordan said she had no details of the fix, but described the new rules, adopted by the Republican-led Senate on the first day of the session, as “a ridiculous, draconian kind of approach.”

“You can’t file a complaint while someone is running for re-election. We run for reelection every two years,” Jordan said. “They changed the burden of proof to say that it has to be ‘clear and convincing evidence.’ You may have to reimburse the cost of the investigation if you’re a complainant.

“You can be sanctioned for contempt, meaning you can be jailed by the Senate. And these are all targeted toward the person making the complaint,” Jordan said.

Afterwards, we checked in with Chip Lake, Duncan’s chief of staff, who confirmed that negotiations were underway and that the Republican lieutenant governor was “hopeful” of reaching a compromise.

From the outset, Duncan has said he was blindsided by the new rules, which were adopted by a GOP majority just before he was sworn into office. Which also gives Duncan the freedom to act as an arbiter.

Democratic buy-in would be essential. On the first day of a legislative session, Senate rules require only a majority approval. After that, a two-thirds vote is required, and Democrats hold 21 of 56 seats. Women in the chamber, likely to be voting as a bloc on this matter, number 15. Two are Republican.

***

This morning, the Legislature will gavel in for the first time since the Super Bowl. A few overlooked details from last week:

-- State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, has been elected chairman of a DeKalb County legislative delegation that is entirely Democratic.

-- House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, confirmed this morning that the GOP-led House Governmental Affairs Committee, a 20-member unit chaired by Ed Rynders of Albany, has set the quorum necessary for a meeting at four members. An attempt by Trammell to expand the requirement to eight members was defeated along party lines last week.

This is important, given the emphasis that both Democrats and Republicans are likely to place on voter access and ballot security – two sides of the same coin. In the House, this is the committee through which such legislation will probably flow.

Republicans say the four-member quorum is a reaction to past Democratic walk-outs intended to paralyze committee work. But the low quorum also increases the possibility of impromptu committee sessions during high-traffic days in the Legislature. An alliance of the chairman and as few as two members could then pass legislation out of committee with nary a Democrat in sight.

***

Somewhere around 10:30 p.m. tonight, or whenever President Donald Trump finishes his State of the Union address, Stacey Abrams and her response will briefly become the center of the Democratic world. Which has many outlets also talking about the possibility that Abrams could – within the next two months – announce a 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.

This morning, the New York Times is one of those outlets. Many who like to view themselves as politically astute are pondering this quote in the article from former Georgia congressman Jack Kingston of Savannah, a Republican:

“Georgia is still a conservative, center-right state,” Mr. Kingston said, adding of Ms. Abrams’s last race: “She had a really, really strong anti-Trump wave and she had a good organization with lots of outside money. But that’s not going to happen again.”

Actually, Republicans in Georgia fear that 2018 is precisely what could happen again, but with more intensity, in 2020. Trump, presumably, will be an actual name on the ballot rather than an ethereal talking point. Abrams, should she run, would still have a good organization. And tonight’s national exposure would also help ensure that she has access to whatever campaign funds she needs.

***

Stacey Abrams won’t be the only well-known name to respond to President Trump’s State of the Union address tonight. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, technically an independent considering another Democratic run for president, will also offer his own retort - the third year in a row he’s done so - after she finishes. Details can be found here. Abrams adherents are accusing Sanders of attempting to upstage Georgia’s former Democratic candidate for governor.

***

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., voted with the majority of his Senate colleagues last night in opposition to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The bipartisan 70-26 vote will have little practical effect. The measure, an amendment to a larger foreign policy bill, states that “a precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. forces could “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia," per the AP.

Still, it was still a clear rebuke of Trump’s recent announcement of a military drawdown.

Isakson spokeswoman Amanda Maddox said the “success and subsequent withdrawal from military conflicts must be based on conditions and not arbitrary. This has been his position regardless of administration,” Maddox said. “We cannot risk allowing a repeat of the conditions that enabled (al Qaeda, the Islamic State and their affiliates) to gain enough strength to attack our homeland.”

One of four no-shows for the vote was U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. His office did not provide details on how he would have voted on the amendment, saying only that the Trump ally had several previously-scheduled meetings in Georgia on Monday, and that he planned to support the underlying foreign policy bill.

Following a trip to the Middle East in 2015, Perdue warned about moving too quickly on then-President Barack Obama’s drawdown plans in Afghanistan.

The amendment ended up attracting an unconventional list of detractors, including a few conservative Republicans (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee), potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates (Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders) and the libertarian-minded Rand Paul. 

***

We often refer to political campaigns as beauty pageants, never acknowledging that beauty pageants can often resemble cut-throat political campaigns.

Chuck Williams of WRBL-TV reports that a legal battle sparked by the organization that runs the annual Miss America contest could jeopardize Columbus’ status as home to the Miss Georgia contest.

It’s complicated, but the TV station reports that late last year, the board of directors that runs the Miss Georgia pageant was fired by the Miss America board of directors, led by former Fox News commentator Gretchen Carlson, herself a former Miss America. Writes Williams:

The former Miss Georgia board has filed a lawsuit in New Jersey against the Miss America organization. The local organization, along with boards from four other states in a similar situation, asked the judge for an injunction against Miss America to allow them to put on state pageants as planned. 

The judge did not grant the temporary restraining order but allowed the suit to continue by failing to dismiss it as the Miss America Organization was asking. 

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