Both former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin sought to run for a Georgia Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Keith Blackwell. Both were turned away by state elections officials who said the retiring justice’s seat wasn’t actually open. Photo by Greg Bluestein.

The Jolt: A Georgia Supreme Court standoff unites two would-be rivals

In a few weeksthey could be bitter rivals. But at a somewhat awkward event under the Gold Dome, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin were allies.

Both sought to run for a Georgia Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Keith Blackwell. Both were turned away by state elections officials who said the retiring justice’s seat wasn’t actually open. 

And both filed lawsuits this week saying the state can’t cancel an election just because Gov. Brian Kemp might make a future appointment to the seat. 

Georgia law empowers the governor to appoint judges to fill vacancies on state courts, and the Secretary of State’s office pointed to statutes that required elections to be canceled if the governor made an appointment within six months of a vote. 

But Blackwell’s case is unusual, as we first reported earlier this week. The justice announced last week he wouldn’t step down until Nov. 18, months after the May 19 election. Blackwell will still sit on the bench until then, drawing a paycheck and drafting opinions. 

Beskin filed a lawsuit Wednesday asserting that Blackwell’s “mere declaration of an intent to resign” and the prospect of a future decision by Kemp to appoint his replacement shouldn’t be grounds for canceling the election for his seat.

Barrow filed a similar complaint targeting Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Thursday and scheduled a press conference at the statehouse to discuss his legal action. It drew several reporters -- and Beskin, too.

She spoke first, telling a bank of cameras that on the “eve of an election” the court should soon act to allow Georgians to vote for who they want on the state’s top bench.

Then came Barrow, who ran for secretary of state in 2018 and called the decision by state elections officials the “ultimate act of voter suppression.” 

“Unlike in most cases of voter suppression, you’re not just suppressing some peoples’ right to vote. One side is not doing something to the other side,” he said. “This is suppressing everybody’s right to vote by taking away the right of the people to elect their justices -- and giving it to the governor.” 

***

This is getting nasty. A few days ago, state Sen. Brandon Beach posted on his Facebook page a boast that he was endorsed by Gov. Brian Kemp. His GOP primary challenger, state Rep. Michael Caldwell, wants him to take it down.

In a press release on Thursday, Caldwell said it was “certainly inappropriate” for Beach to claim the governor’s support. And he furnished a glowing statement from the governor:

“Michael Caldwell is a devout Christian, committed family man, and successful entrepreneur who has answered the call of public service. In the State House, Rep. Caldwell has led efforts to spur economic growth, lower healthcare costs, enhance educational outcomes, protect life, and preserve our conservative Georgia values. He is an asset under the Gold Dome and I am proud to call him a colleague and friend.”

Beach has thus far not removed the post — and offered his own statement from the governor:

“I look forward to partnering with Senator Beach in the years to come to lower healthcare costs, protect our families from gangs, enhance educational outcomes, and put hardworking Georgians first." 

***

We’ve picked up word that U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is planning to bring on a high-powered consultant, possibly as one of her top advisers. 

Ward Baker is a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and helped orchestrate Marsha Blackburn’s Senate victory in Tennessee. 

His role is unclear. Loeffler’s campaign is already loaded with strategists, media advisers and digital specialists, but she doesn’t have a general consultant on the payroll. 

We’re told that, for now, Baker is helping behind-the-scenes with Loeffler and several other GOP incumbent senators. 

***

Speaking of Loeffler, she was all ready to accompany President Donald Trump on his visit to Atlanta today. He was scheduled to tour the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and speak to officials there working to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Now, that trip has been postponed indefinitely. Atlanta commuters may be rejoicing because the president’s motorcade would have likely tied up rush-hour traffic, but the late-night change of heart took many by surprise.

Trump was initially scheduled to land at Dobbins Air Force base at 3 p.m. after touring tornado-damaged Nashville. But the White House said the visit to Atlanta was postponed because the president didn’t want to “interfere with the CDC’s mission to protect the health and welfare of their people and the agency.”

(Update: After The Jolt was published this morning, Trump announced he may be headed to Atlanta after all.)

***

There is growing concern that the coronavirus epidemic is causing an impact on domestic travel. Already, some high profile events and conferences have been canceled across the country.

This could affect the bottom line of Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta. Already, the company has reduced flights to Japan and Italy. Delta is also waiving change fees for any trips booked for the month of March.

Airline stocks overall have declined 28% since the beginning of the year, according to MarketWatch. However, Delta has not lost as much value as some of its competitors.

Members of Congress, who attended coronavirus briefings this week, encouraged constituents to reconsider travel plans, especially if the traveler is elderly or has a compromised immune system.

The NCAA says it is not making any chances to its March Madness Tournament, and the men’s finals are scheduled to be played in Atlanta in April. But a players’ organization has requested the games be played without spectators.

***

Take this as a sign of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ clout in the Joe Biden world: We heard from several insiders that the former vice president’s campaign picked Rashad Taylor to be its Georgia director. Taylor is a veteran political consultant and a senior adviser to the mayor, one of Biden’s first major endorsers in Georgia.

***

In endorsement news:

  • U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler picked up the support of the Georgia chapter of the Family Policy Alliance, led by prominent conservative Cole Muzio.

  • U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is poised to nab the endorsement of the Great America PAC, a pro-Trump organization led by veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins. He told Fox Business late Thursday he was set to make the announcement soon. 

  • Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young endorsed Joe Biden’s bid for president on Thursday’s edition of “Political Rewind.”

***

Now that the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is down to two candidates, the market is flooded with staffers who worked for one of the candidates whose campaigns lost steam.

At least one organization, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action, is looking to recruit them.

“Recently coming off a presidential campaign and interested in fighting for the right to vote?,” Lauren Groh-Wargo wrote on Twitter. “@fairfightaction is hiring several awesome positions — check them out!”

Groh-Wargo is the organization’s chief executive, and she served as Abrams’ campaign manager in 2018. At the time of her tweet, Groh-Wargo was targeting people who once worked for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Since then, both Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg also ended their campaigns.

However, Bloomberg’s folks may not be out of jobs yet.

The billionaire former New York City mayor announced Thursday that he is launching a new entity whose goal will be helping elect the Democratic nominee for president and other down-ballot Democratic candidates. 


***

More than 82,000 people had voted early in Georgia’s presidential primary election as of Thursday. Early voting runs through March 20.

That number includes more than 2,800 new voters, the AJC’s Isaac Sabetai and Jennifer Peebles reported. More stats they shared:

  • Whites make up 55% of early voters compared to being 53% of all registered voters;

  • Blacks make up 35% of early voters compared to being 30% of all voters;

  • 56% of early voters are female;

  • Most of those early votes have been clustered around metro areas.

The full article has more stats and useful graphics.

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