Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com

The Jolt: Gwinnett’s top law enforcement figures endorse MARTA vote

You can consider Nathan Deal a GOP confidence-builder when it comes to transit.

Late last week, the former governor came out in support of the referendum to bring MARTA and bus rapid transit to Gwinnett County. Without access to a state helicopter, Deal is now doomed to sit in traffic with the rest of us.

This was a significant development. For weeks, Charlotte Nash, chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission, had been the only (current or former) Republican elected official to endorse the required one-cent sales tax the referendum would apply.

Apparently encouraged by Deal’s example, our AJC colleague Tyler Estep reports that two more elected Republicans in Gwinnett County endorsed the MARTA vote on Monday: Sheriff Butch Conway and District Attorney Danny Porter.

Porter was first elected in 1992. Conway’s tenure as sheriff reaches back to 1996. Both are up for re-election in 2020, as is Nash.

In terms of moving GOP voters, endorsements from Porter and Conway may matter more than one from a former governor. They are the top law enforcement figures in Gwinnett, and are answers to long held, racially tinged fears among some voters that MARTA would import crime into the county. One key line from the press release:

Porter said areas around transit hubs attract new investment and big crowds, key ingredients for reducing crime, while also expanding law enforcement presence.

The very conservative Conway makes a stronger case:

“The much-needed transit expansion will take thousands of vehicles off our roads every day, which will lead to fewer wrecks, fewer traffic jams and fewer fatalities,” said Conway.

“Studies clearly show that an increase in transit ridership increases road safety. We know we can make a huge difference in Gwinnett, because even the more limited bus service that is provided today makes a big difference – Gwinnett buses comprise 29 percent of the passengers in the I-85 HOT lanes but only 2 percent of the vehicles…

Conway noted that MARTA is one of only three transit agencies to earn the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s top security certification.

One additional note: Former governors do not enter frays without first consulting with their successors, especially if they are of the same party. Given Deal’s statement of last week, it’s fair to say that Gov. Brian Kemp will either endorse the referendum or, more likely, stay neutral.

But it is now unlikely that Kemp will join the naysayers.

***

The surprising news that the latest effort to pass a “religious liberty” bill was smothered almost as soon as it emerged triggered a state Capitol version of whodunit. 

House Republicans, tired of being blamed for past failures, were happy to point figures at their Senate counterparts. And in the Senate, some saw the hidden hand of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. 

A few even wondered whether Gov. Brian Kemp moved in for the silent kill to spare himself of a tough veto. After all, he vowed to sign an exact replica of the 1993 federal version of the legislation, and this was an expansion.

Republican state Sen. Marty Harbin, the measure’s sponsor, said in a lengthy statement that he canceled a hearing Monday on the the bill on his own, fearful that it was too late to get a proper vetting.

We’re told by some insiders that’s true - to a point. It was set to face a tough audience in Senate Judiciary Committee with dim prospects of emerging unscathed, if at all. 

So rather than spike its chances for next year, Harbin apparently pulled it to prepare for a 2020 push - just in time for an election year battle. 

***

Another controversial measure in the state Senate faces much better odds: The push to allow a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The measure is set for a vote by Thursday with co-sponsors from more than enough Republican senators to assure its passage. 

Still, as opponents ramp up their lobbying, critics are holding out hope of keeping it aground. Says one insider: “There are people who signed onto that bill that suddenly wish they hadn’t.” Here’s some background.

***

This should be interesting: State Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, the author of a resolution calling for House Speaker David Ralston to be removed from his position, has scheduled a 12:45 p.m. press conference at the office building across the street from the state Capitol to discuss his political future.

***

Student organizers from the city of Decatur say they’re headed for the state Capitol on Thursday, Crossover Day, to advocate for House Bill 175, a bill that would prohibit Confederate monuments and markers on public property, and oppose SB 77, which would preserve those same monuments and heap penalties upon those who deface them.

The students are bound to be disappointed. HB 175 is going nowhere. And SB 77 is on today’s calendar for a floor vote. Which is no surprise, given that its author is Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

***

U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue were looking for quick consensus yesterday afternoon as they huddled with two key senators about their $13.6 billion natural disaster relief bill. They fell short, but Perdue still sounded upbeat about cutting a deal in the days ahead.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll get this worked out tonight, tomorrow,” he told one of your Insiders yesterday. “It’s active conversations. The right people are talking now and cool heads are prevailing, but we know timing is of the essence.”

The Georgia duo is seeking to secure the support of all 100 senators so the Senate can rapidly pass the legislation this week. But even one dissenting lawmaker can foil those plans, requiring a more drawn-out legislative process. Perdue suggested Monday there were some Democrats who wanted the Senate to pass the House’s version of the bill, which the chamber passed during the January shutdown and included provisions objectionable to Republicans.

***

Sunday’s tornadoes in Georgia and Alabama have kept the pressure on Congress to approve the natural disaster money. Gov. Brian Kemp said he spoke with President Donald Trump on Monday evening, who he said offered the White House’s “full support to Georgians impacted by yesterday’s severe storms and for those still waiting for federal disaster relief for Hurricane Michael damage.”

“Let me be clear: Georgia families cannot wait any longer,” Kemp tweeted. “I urge Congress to approve the proposal filed by @SenatorIsakson and @sendavidperdue as soon as possible. Livelihoods hang in the balance.” 

Earlier in the afternoon, Trump told a group of attorneys general, including

Georgia’s Chris Carr and his Alabama counterpart Steve Marshall, that “we’re with you 100 percent.” “Attorney General Marshall and Attorney General Carr, when you get home, please tell the people of the great states of Alabama and Georgia that America has their backs,” Trump said.

***

The House Judiciary Committee delved into its probe into the Trump White House on Monday, firing off letters to 81 people, federal agencies and private companies seeking answers about the president, his 2016 campaign and his businesses dealings. At least two Georgians were among those who received inquiries: FBI Director Chris Wray and former White House ethics guru Stefan Passantino.

Among the documents House Democrats want the FBI to turn over are communications related to ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn; former director James Comey; and a potential pardon for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. They asked Passantino for documents related to any domestic or foreign governments offering payouts to Trump or his business interests.

***

Seventh District congressional hopeful Carolyn Bourdeaux has picked up the endorsement of former Gov. Roy Barnes. The Democrat is looking to consolidate her party’s support as several high-profile state legislators eye retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall’s seat. Community organizer Nabilah Islam and attorney Marqus Cole have already entered the Democratic race. Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has said kind things about Bourdeaux, but has stopped short of a formal endorsement.

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