House Rules Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun, in a 2017 file photo. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: John Meadows, chairman of House Rules, dies before special session

State lawmakers will assemble this afternoon for a five-day, special lame-duck session of the Legislature on the news that one of its most powerful members has died.

State Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, chairman of the House Rules Committee, died of stomach cancer, according to a Tweeted message of condolence from Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor. 

From Kemp, who has claimed victory in a gubernatorial contest that has yet to be called:

“Saddened to hear that House Rules Chairman John Meadows passed away after a hard fought battle with stomach cancer. Rep. Meadows was a devoted public servant and community leader. He will be missed and our prayers are with his family as they mourn.”

From a statement issued by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge:

“My dear friend John was a great man – brave Marine, loving father and adoring grandfather. He loved his family with total devotion. His public service, both as a Marine and a state representative, was grounded in trying to ensure his children and grandchildren saw a better tomorrow. 

“John was outwardly fierce and courageous but he was, at the same time, one of the kindest and most generous souls you have ever met. There aren’t words to describe the magnitude of this loss for our House of Representatives or the state of Georgia, and my heart is simply broken under the weight of this sad news. 

“My heart goes out to John’s family – particularly his beloved wife Marie, his children B.J. and Missy, and his grandsons Will, Patrick, and Max.” 

Meadows’ House District 5 includes portions of Gordon and Murray counties in north Georgia. Prior to his election to the House in 2004, he served as the mayor of Calhoun for 13 years. In the Legislature, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, Meadows had more clout than anyone in his chamber save Speaker Ralston. From a 2016 article on state Capitol clout, written by our AJC colleague Jim Denery:

Consider House Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, or, as he refers to himself, the "judge and the jury." Meadows' power is such that he keeps an apartment between the ears of every legislator. His name often appears in sentences that contain the phrase "live or die" because if he doesn't like a bill, you might as well bury it in six feet of dirt.

Bills that Meadows likes, on the other hand, have a certain resilience. On Monday, the Senate Insurance Committee refused to move House Bill 838, which would have guaranteed a 5 percent commission for agents who sell small-group health insurance. A majority of the senators on the committee refused to vote, which might seem peculiar except that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story the day before raising questions about conflicts of interest concerning the bill and its patron, Meadows, an insurance agent. The lawmakers who took a pass also have ties to the insurance industry.

Meadows responded the next day, when he said during a Rules Committee meeting that he was inclined not to schedule any Senate bills for a vote.

Now, maybe Senate leaders, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, just happened to take pity on struggling insurance agents --- it's hard to tell. But two days after Meadows bill was shoved into limbo, it came out to meet the sun and a newly revamped Senate Insurance Committee sporting two additional members. And, lo, HB 838 won the committee's endorsement and appears headed for a floor vote.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, is vice-chairman of the Rules Committee, and presumably will take the helm of the panel for this week’s brief session, the primary purpose of which is to pass emergency funding for aid to portions of South Georgia ravaged last month by Hurricane Michael.

Read and sign the online guestbook for State Rep. John Meadows

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Several lawmakers already planned to miss the opening minutes of today’s special session of the Legislature to mark another death, that of former state Supreme Court chief justice Harris Hines, who passed last week at age 75. Services are at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Marietta.

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Emergency funding for South Georgia won’t be the only thing going on at the state Capitol this week. Newly elected members of the Senate and House caucuses, Democrats and Republicans alike, will be electing their leadership.

On the House Democratic side, we’ve heard that state Rep. Carolyn Hugley of Columbus, a confidante of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, will challenge state Rep. Bob Trammell of Luthersville for the post of House minority leader. Trammell beat Hugley for the job when Abrams left the Legislature in 2017.

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We’ve just put to bed the effort to create a new city of Eagles Landing in Henry County – last week, voters failed to approve the two measures that would have put it in motion. But already we’ve got talk of a new city of East Cobb. The Marietta Daily Journal, quoting Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott on the topic:

“…[T]he two biggest complaints I hear from the citizens are their unhappiness with the overall appearance of the roads and medians compared to Sandy Springs,” Ott said. “I also hear concerns about the shortage of police officers. The final issue I hear is concerns about the amount of taxes paid by the district (40 percent of the county total property taxes) and the level of service they feel they receive. Many feel they pay more than they get back.”

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In one of a several lingering races across the nation, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema on Monday beat Republican Martha McSally to become Arizona's first female senator. The Arizona Republican newspaper account includes a paragraph that would be familiar to Georgia’s political class:

Sinema's systematic play for moderate Republican voters, independent voters and suburban women anxious about the polarizing politics in the era of President Donald Trump gave her an advantage in the state's urban areas that was too great for McSally to overcome.

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We haven’t heard much from U.S. Rep.-elect Lucy McBath since she defeated Republican incumbent Karen Handel on Thursday. To our knowledge, the Marietta Democrat has not given any interviews, and she’s been quiet on social media save for a few tweets and a statement on last week’s mass shooting in southern California. She’ll be making the trek up to Capitol Hill this week, where she’ll have the first of two weeks of orientation for newly-elected lawmakers. 

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Former acting U.S. attorney Sally Quillian Yates waded into the contentious post-election foray for the first time with a tweet supporting Democratic pleas for more time to count all the ballots. 

“Democracy is only democracy if ALL eligible ballots are counted. It’s not just about Stacey Abrams or any particular candidate,” she said on Twitter. “It’s about our country’s fundamental promise to count every vote.” 

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, meanwhile, signalled he was over it. The Gainesville Republican took to Facebook to broadcast his exasperation with the ongoing gubernatorial contest, Over Monday news from Doug Richards of 11Alive that Abrams had gained “1,102 votes between 6 a.m. today and 4:30 this afternoon,” the congressman tapped: For an election that's been over for a week tomorrow. Let that information sink in…”

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Collins might get some consolation with the notion that his long sought-after prison reform bill -- a kind of federal counterpart to Georgia’s state-level actions -- could see new life in Congress’ upcoming lame duck session. The Washington Post reports that a broader version of Collins’ bill that includes changes to federal sentencing laws is being introduced in the Senate this week and could soon see movement in the chamber. 

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Oh, to think of all the ink we spilled for no good reason. 

Amazon let word leak Monday it was definitely going to split its second headquarters project into two different sites -- and that neither would locate in Atlanta. Thus ended an Olympic-like chase for the tech giant’s jobs that helped shape the 2018 legislative session, divided Atlanta residents and captivated politicians and corporate types. The winners come as no surprise: Northern Virginia will get one cache of 25,000 jobs while New York will get the other. Business insiders believe Atlanta may get some type of consolation prize. We’ll believe it when we see it.

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