Jim Beck, commissioner of the Georgia Insurance Department, speaks at a press conference about an insurance fraud bust in March. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com

The Jolt: Jim Beck’s indictment roils a Georgia GOP race for chairman

Twenty-four hours ago, we drew a tentative line between the indictment of state Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck and Saturday’s election of a new chairman for the Georgia GOP.

The line is no longer hypothetical.

Late Wednesday, former Cobb County GOP chairman Scott Johnson leveled a Facebook broadside at his chief rival for the statewide chairmanship, former state senator David Shafer, citing the latter’s tight relationship with Beck. The opening line:

“The Georgia Republican Party does not need another leader clouded in controversy.”

Allow us to interpret: Two years ago, lobbyist John Watson -- a close ally to both Sonny and David Perdue -- was elected state GOP chairman on the promise to clean-up the aftermath of a racial discrimination lawsuit filed and settled by the previous chairman, John Padgett.

Something close to $1 million went to the settlement and lawyer fees. Paying off the latter won’t be finished until next year. The episode has chilled state party fundraising.

Fixing the party’s fiscal woes has been a hot topic in the three-man chairmanship contest -- Bruce Azevedo, a real estate agent and former chairman of the Ninth District GOP, is also in the contest. More from Johnson:

David Shafer and Jim Beck have been intertwined for decades in both business and government agencies. This includes the fact that David Shafer sits on the board that approved all of Jim Beck’s allegedly criminal invoices at the Georgia Underwriting Association.

As a business executive, I find it nearly impossible that 2 million dollars could be paid out for services that were largely never rendered and someone not notice.

Whether it was negligence or compliance - either way Shafer failed by allowing Beck to continue his scheme right under his nose.someone not notice. Whether it was negligence or compliance - either way Shafer failed by allowing Beck to continue his scheme right under his nose.

You can read Johnson’s full statement on his Facebook page. Shafer answered on his own site, maintaining that the GUA board never approved the fraudulent actions Beck is charged with. Wrote Shafer:

“The United States Attorney has made absolutely clear that the Georgia Underwriting Association was the VICTIM of this alleged wrongdoing and that its leaders cooperated fully with the investigation. I agree with Governor Kemp and will support whatever action he deems necessary.

“It is so deeply disappointing that someone I considered a friend would make such false and reckless allegations to win a party office. At the outset, we agreed to campaign with integrity. One of us has kept that promise.”

There was more back-and-forth deep into the evening, and it is likely to continue thru the two-day convention in Savannah.

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An educated guess: Despite the mounting pressure on state Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck to resign, chances are he won’t step down. 

One reason? Remaining in office helps ensure he continues to draw a paycheck and that he and his wife receive healthcare benefits. 

Instead, he could seek to take a leave of absence and turn over duties to a deputy commissioner or another trusted aide. 

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Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. senator from New York, will be at the state Capitol at 11 a.m. today for a round-table protest of Georgia’s new “heartbeat” law.

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Former Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has been in print on both coasts in the last 24 hours. In a New York Times op-ed in today’s editions, she throws more than a little shade at Gov. Brian Kemp for a “vicious blend of electoral malfeasance, misfeasance and mismanagement” in the 2018 contest. One paragraph:

These officials slyly mask their assaults through criteria that appear neutral on the surface but nevertheless target race, gender, language and economic status. The “exact match” policy in Georgia, which a federal court deemed unlawful in November because it requires perfect data entry to secure a timely registration, serves as one example of such a policy.

On Wednesday, in a Q&A with the Los Angeles Times, Abrams argues that a Hollywood boycott of Georgia over its new anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill is the wrong response. She says Hollywood should send cash instead:

We have to recognize that Georgia is the only state that is such a deep part of the film industry that also has the type of draconian leadership that would seek to strip a woman's autonomy in this way.

That puts us in a unique position to fight back — not only against the legislation here but the legislation around the country — and to fund the defeat of these politicians and their horrible behavior by using the resources available through the entertainment industry.

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Late Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law its state ban on nearly all abortions – an attempt to bring the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Washington Post today looks at the political implications for both Republicans and Democrats, and we detect a hint of GOP concern in this paragraph:

“If they can make our pro-life position about the Alabama bill, rather than our opposition to late-term abortion and infanticide, which they have been supporting, then we are going to be on the defense,” said Ralph Reed, the chairman of the socially conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, who supports the Alabama bill. “I tend to think that’s not going to happen.”

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Rep. John Lewis (D Ga.) dons protective gear as he prepares to weld his initials into the keel plate of his namesake ship during the keel laying ceremony of USNS John Lewis at the General Dynamics Shipyard in San Diego.
Photo: Sarah Burford/Military Sealift Command Pacific

We’re a little late to this, but U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, was honored at a keel-laying ceremony in San Diego earlier this week as the Navy unveiled its first in its class of ships named after the civil rights leaders. There will ultimately be 20 ships in the John Lewis Class of fleet replenishment oilers, the first of which is projected to be completed next spring. Lewis and actress Alfre Woodard, the ship’s ceremonial sponsor, welded their initials into the first ship, which will bear his name.

Below, that’s Lewis on the right and Woodard on the left. Photos are courtsey of General Dynamics NASSCO. 

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House Speaker David Ralston, beleaguered by questions about court delays he has sought on behalf of his clients in his private law practice in north Georgia, is attempting to move on. This morning, he will appear before the editorial board of the Augusta Chronicle. The interview will be livestreamed on Facebook.

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On a somewhat related note, attorney Bryan Tyson has filed additional complaints with the state ethics commission against tea party activist Debbie Dooley, who has been a sharp critic of House Speaker David Ralston. Tyson charges that Dooley has failed to register as a lobbyist, as the state requires. She has also failed to disclose the political groups she operates – some of which pay her, Tyson alleges. Read the complaint here, or stroll through it below:

Dooley insists she was not paid by anyone to write an op-ed about Plant Vogtle’s nuclear construction, which appeared in the D.C.-based The Hill newspaper. Nor was she paid anything to oppose Republican incumbents Tricia Pridemore and Chuck Eaton and their bids for re-election to the state Public Service Commission, she said.

Click here to read her answer to the original complaint, filed in December.

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On Wednesday, two U.S. senators from Georgia – one current, one former – flew to Indianapolis on Air Force Two to pay their respects to their late colleague Dick Lugar, R-Ind. Johnny Isakson was one of a half-dozen sitting senators to attend the funeral along with Vice President Mike Pence. 

Former senator Sam Nunn delivered one of the eulogies. Nunn and Lugar were close friends who crafted a landmark bipartisan denuclearization agreement with Russia that bore both of their names.

Nunn joked in his eulogy that like Lugar’s wife, “I discovered that when you become Dick Lugar’s partner – you give up half of your name.” 

A little more from the Democrat’s tribute:

“He insisted on knowing the ground truth. Unfortunately for our travel schedule, it was not to be found in Paris or London. We often found ourselves in places near the Arctic Circle, where Russian submarines were being destroyed, or at a remote place in Siberia called Shchuchye, where we put on gas masks and protective suits and walked through deteriorating buildings containing millions of artillery tubes filled with nerve gas – enough at that site to kill everyone on earth.”

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It almost certainly won’t be going anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, but a dozen Democrats in D.C. have introduced legislation that would mandate hand-marked paper ballots and ban internet connections to voting machines. The Protecting American Votes and Elections Act would also give the feds the authority to set minimum cybersecurity standards for voting machines and voter registration databases for the first time. Among the bill’s fans is Stacey Abrams, who said it would help “bring real security to our elections.”

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U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, is ramping up his opposition to a bill that would extend federal civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community. A Baptist minister and conservative talk show host before coming to Congress, Hice will be headlining a Capitol Hill press conference with colleagues and outside family values groups today.

The gathering is intended to highlight the bill's "harmful effects on women’s and children’s rights, and how it will do away with women’s sports, safe spaces for women, and jeopardize parents’ jurisdiction over their child’s health care."

The House is on track to pass the legislation on Friday. The White House has signaled it’ll oppose the bill because it includes “poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights,” according to the Washington Blade.

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