Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in a 2018 file photo. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Jolt: Howard Schultz says third-party musings have prompted ‘character assassination’

For Howard Schultz, the coffee billionaire exploring a third-party presidential run, the most encouraging moment from last night’s stop in Atlanta may have come when he asked the sold-out crowd to raise a hand if they felt the government was working well.

Not a single arm went up from the 300 or so who had crammed themselves into the Carter Center’s chapel, where Schultz was peddling his new book -- and testing the 2020 waters.

“This is the same answer I’m getting across the country – everywhere I go. What are we going to do?” said Schultz, the former Starbucks chief executive. “Are we going to sit here and embrace the status quo of more decline? Is there any evidence if a Democrat wins that Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party are going to embrace a Democrat? We need to recognize that the two-party system is broken.”

He continued: 

“I’m not in business to re-elect Donald Trump. I love this country, and if we get to the point where the math doesn’t work for me, I won’t proceed. But with 18 months to go, and the American people feeling like the government has let them down, I feel like something has to be challenged.”

Here, he was challenged by moderator Van Jones of CNN, who asked if he was willing to jeopardize his legacy as a corporate titan and philanthropist in an election where a third-party candidate can depress Democratic support and potentially help Trump. 

“I don’t think that answer can be answered in March of 2019. We’re 18 months away and a lot could happen,” he said. “I won’t do anything to jeopardize the critical importance of removing this president from the Oval Office.”

Schultz also addressed the backlash he’s faced from Democrats worried about his third-party bid:

“I’ve never thought I’d be criticized as much. I didn’t think this would be a character assassination … I think the concerns the American people have are greater than the threat to the two-party system.” 

***

We told you Monday that the skids had been greased for the measure to authorize $150 million for a new statewide system of touch-screen voting machines -- in part to quickly push past coalescing concerns over costs.

HB 316 is currently the only bill scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday.

On Monday, we published this undredacted cost document from Election Systems and Software, which estimated -- under one scenario -- hardware costs of $99,999,250. Which coincides with the $100 million cost lawmakers have spoken of.

That same scenario anticipated the company would be paid $5.7 million annually in licensing and maintenance fees -- something which hasn’t gotten any mention in the state Capitol.

We were quickly contacted by an ES&S official, who asked how we came by the info. That was a good question.

Marilyn Marks, an opponent of HB 316, said the document was located a couple weeks ago -- via the secretary of state website.

“The document had been out on the SOS website long enough to have been cached by Google. He downloaded it and then passed it along to me,” she told us this morning. 

***

Earlier this morning, we told you that, in a Monday interview with the AJC, Gov. Brian Kemp said he had been impressed by the “strong vote” on a measure to allow medicinal marijuana to be grown in Georgia, with its low-THC oil passed on to patients via 60 licensed dispensaries. House Bill 324 was approved by a 123-40 vote. Which is better than veto-proof.

“When it passes with a constitutional majority,” quipped Kemp, referring to the two-thirds support behind the bill, “it might not matter what I think.”

***

The Savannah Morning News has a piece on yet another effort, HB 445, to loosen regulations on private beachfront development along the Georgia coast – never mind those rumors of rising sea levels. A taste:

“Georgia’s coast suffered millions of dollars in damage from hurricanes in 2017, and DNR staff frequently talks about the growing risks of rising sea level, yet H.B. 445 requires a mere 25 feet between high tide and oceanfront development,” wrote Dave Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast.

“Instead of using available shore-erosion data like other states, H.B. 445 ghostwriters say absolutely nothing about dangerous erosion along our coast — applying only the 25-foot measurement from various landmarks, despite mounting shoreline hazards.”

***

Our AJC colleague Tyler Estep reports that one more ranking Gwinnett County official is encouraging a “yes” vote on next Tuesday’s MARTA referendum. Seems as if teachers need to get to school before the first bell. From School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks:

“Local revenue funds over 40 percent of the operations of Gwinnett County public schools, so having a robust economy is critical to ensuring we are able to attract the best teachers and provide the instructional programs our students need to be competitive. The county’s transportation infrastructure is a vital factor in supporting that robust economy, and it needs major relief.”

***

On Monday afternoon, the Washington Examiner reported that Democrat Stacey Abrams, at the SXSW gathering in Austin, Texas, had ruled out a 2020 run for president. The former state lawmaker and her team quickly contradicted the report. Abrams herself Tweeted: “2020 is definitely on the table...”

But “on the table” may be the wrong metaphor. A box may be more appropriate. And Abrams is Schrodinger’s cat.

***

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, anticipating that the aforementioned box contains a challenger to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, is having a little fun with its latest Stacey Abrams attack ad. The Senate GOP’s campaign arm took inspiration from the iconic public television show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” to call attention to Abrams’ recent out-of-town fundraising trips and events. Listen to the 1990s throwback a capella at your own risk.

***

Three historic parks in Georgia will get the formal go-ahead to expand on Tuesday when President Donald Trump signs the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The legislation allows the National Park Service to begin acquiring previously identified lands around Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island and Ocmulgee near Macon. It constitutes the largest expansion of Georgia’s federal parklands in years.

***

Last night, our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree tapped out a few thoughts on the Democratic site for its next presidential nomination gathering:

The political travel calendar is set for the 2020 major party conventions. The Democrats will meet first in Milwaukee from July 13-16. The Republicans will follow five weeks later in Charlotte, from August 24-27. This is a different schedule than the past few elections, where the party conventions were back-to-back.

Frankly, as a reporter, I’m glad to see the break between them, because I always thought the second convention received less comprehensive coverage – mainly because all the reporters were so tired by the end of their two week blitz. Milwaukee and Charlotte are both cities without a gigantic amount of hotel space, which will probably mean some state delegations will be a little ways out of town.

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