January 21, 2020 Atlanta - Georgia Governor Brian Kemp addresses the 2020 Season Joint Budget hearings on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jolt: Hands off election bill, Gov. Brian Kemp warns House GOP

At 3 p.m. today, a lowly House subcommittee will take up House Bill 757, a measure intended to clarify the right of the secretary of state to set an early March qualifying date for candidates -- Democrats and Republicans -- who want to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the November special election.

Late Sunday, Gov. Brian Kemp sent word that the bill is not to be tinkered with. In essence, the governor confirmed the existence of rebellious GOP sentiment in the state Capitol to challenge his December appointment of Loeffler to the seat vacated by the retiring Johnny Isakson.

Last week, we were the first to tell you that House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, was searching for Republican partners to amend HB 757, so that the all-comers special election would be converted to the more traditional cycle of a May primary, followed by a November general election.

Specifically, Trammell, who sits on the aforementioned subcommittee, is looking for GOP supporters of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is considering a challenge to Loeffler -- and was the preferred pick of President Donald Trump.

That would upend Kemp’s carefully-laid calculations. He picked Loeffler, a wealthy financial executive with little political experience, to appeal to a general election crowd – and not to win a GOP nominating contest. 

Especially not against Collins, who has built a national profile with his defense of Trump during House impeachment inquiries.

For Democrats, the move makes strategic sense. Party leaders are angling to unite behind the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is expected to soon enter the race, over several other Democrats in the contest. And a primary reduces the likelihood of a January 2021 runoff. Democrats have a miserable record in recent overtime contests.

Why would Republican lawmakers bite? Remember that Collins was a top ally of Speaker David Ralston when the former was a state House member. Collins remains close with many of the chamber’s leaders. Also note that Ralston seems increasingly comfortable to feud with Kemp on a range of issues, from budget cuts to foster care.

Kemp has promised a veto of the measure if it becomes an attack on Loeffler. But in their public opposition, aides aren’t admitting any vulnerability on the new senator’s part. Rather, they argue that a change in the calendar risks voter confusion and more court challenges from voting rights groups already seeking vast changes to the election system.

“You don’t change the rules at half-time to benefit one team over another,” said Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokeswoman. “People are sick and tired of it. The governor will veto any bill that attempts to undermine the rule of law for perceived political gain.”

The Monday afternoon meeting of the House Governmental Affairs subcommittee, chaired by Alan Powell of Hartwell, will be in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

***

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, posted a tribute to Kobe Bryant on her Twitter page shortly after learning of the death of the basketball great.

I am stunned and saddened by the tragic death of @NBA legend, @kobebryant,” Loeffler wrote. “He was a dynamic athlete who elevated the game of basketball to new heights. We are praying for the Bryant Family during these dark, painful moments.”

Bryant and his 13-year old daughter died along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

***

The oddest Twitter note arrived Sunday, posted by James Earl Carter IV, grandson of the former president:

Apparently there has been some confusion, so let me clear things up: The Planter’s mascot Mr. Peanut is dead. Former president Jimmy Carter is alive and well.

The younger Carter was apparently referring to a report from WALB in Albany that local viewers had conflated the Planter’s 104-year-old mascot, who was offed in a marketing stunt, with the famous peanut farmer from Plains.

***

Catching you up: Democrat Ted Terry dropped out of the crowded race against U.S. Sen. David Perdue on Sunday to run for an open DeKalb County commission seat, leaving three top rivals competing to challenge the Republican incumbent in a nationally-watched contest.

The Clarkston mayor said fundraising struggles - his latest disclosure showed him with roughly $60,000 in campaign cash - contributed to his decision.

Terry’s withdrawal prompted an immediate note from former rival and ex-mayor of Columbus Teresa Tomlinson:

It was a pleasure sharing the debate stage with you. Big things are ahead for you. “Mayors know how to govern,” and that will take you far. All the best, #TeamTomlinson.

Terry will be on GPB’s “Political Rewind” this morning to explain his move.

***

Posted earlier this morning: Seeking to press his fundraising advantage, Democrat Jon Ossoff said Monday he’ll host a series of statewide town hall gatherings to “answer questions from all Georgians, whether or not they now support" his U.S. Senate campaign to challenge Republican incumbent David Perdue.

***

An extensive AJC analysis indicates that, in Georgia’s most populous counties, purges of registered voters from the state’s voter rolls largely falls along demographic lines, but affects white voters and younger voters at slightly higher rates. A taste of the data:

More than a third of voters removed statewide came from four metro Atlanta counties: Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb. Of the 286,790 voter registrations canceled across Georgia, 107,711 or 38% came from the four metro counties — Georgia’s four most populous counties…

Around Georgia, counties with the largest percentage of their voters removed from the rolls were primarily located in South Georgia and had lower voting populations. Chattahoochee County, on the Alabama border, had the largest percentage of its registered voters removed. Chattahoochee lost 16% of its 3,610 registered voters.

***

This was quite the moment: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ alma mater, Florida A&M University, honored her on Saturday with an on-field tribute at the annual Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase, held at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The school’s marching band spelled out a giant heart above the word “MAYOR.”

“This means SO much to me for so many reasons. We all get up each day trying to do the very best we can,” she wrote on Twitter. “But to have your FAMUly validate that you’ve made them proud, moves me beyond words.”

***

Ben George, the former attorney for the state Senate Democratic Caucus, died suddenly over the weekend at the age of 50. From Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker:

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Ben George, who served as our caucus attorney for many years. Ben believed deeply in democratic principles. We are grateful for his public service and his diligence in working to make the lives of others better. He will be missed by many.”

Writes Liz Flowers, the spokeswoman for the caucus:

“Ben had a wicked sense of humor and a deep understanding of politics. He was very proud of all things Georgia, including his alma mater UGA and his favorite author Flannery O'Connor. He was called home too soon.”

And from Seth Clark, another former Democratic staffer at the state Capitol:

“He was an unreconstructed Democrat and Bulldog who pulled countless young minds up on his coattails at the Capitol. And just like his hero, the late Sen. Robert Brown of Macon, he worked with those he vehemently disagreed with because he knew that’s what the folks he worked for deserved.”

A memorial service for George will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the chapel of Camp Glisson in Dahlonega. Details can be found here.

***

Fact-checking website PolitiFact weighed in on that Facebook post from Georgia GOP activist and former candidate Paul Maner that we mentioned in Thursday’s Jolt.

Maner had written that if U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, “hadn’t been involved in a drug deal gone bad, her son might still be alive today.” McBath had a quick, sharp rebuke on her own social media feed where she also said she regularly deals with bad-faith attacks about her son’s death in what is widely known as the “loud music” case.

However, PolitiFact also gave the claim a look and ultimately decided to rate it as “pants on fire,” a category reserved for the most egregious falsehood.

“The claim is not only false but ridiculous,” PolitiFact said.

***

National Democrats are trying to turn stalled legislation that aims to lower prescription drug prices into a 2020 issue in Georgia and other battleground states. 

The legislation, which passed the U.S. House and is bottled up in the Senate, would give the federal government new powers to negotiate drug prices for recipients of Medicare.

The savings would be used to expand dental, hearing and visual coverage for Medicare recipients, while also penalizing companies that raise the prices of certain drugs at a rate higher than inflation. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to announce a new campaign initiative centered on the legislation, which Senate Republicans see as too restrictive, later Monday. 

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