The Jolt: A June 11 restart for lawmakers is about numbers, not safety, says Speaker David Ralston



Lt. Gov. Duncan pushes for a May 14 start

The 2020 session of the General Assembly will resume on June 11 after a coronavirus hiatus if House Speaker David Ralston has any say about it. And he does.

The speaker said he picked that date not for public health reasons but financial ones. The April revenue figures will be released by early June, and they’ll help inform negotiations about Georgia’s beleaguered spending plan.

“To try to go in during May would be like trying to throw darts when you’re blindfolded. It makes no sense,” said Ralston, who added that members of the House budget-writing subcommittee will likely return for in-person meetings in weeks.

A deal must be struck with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has floated a May 14 date. His chief of staff, John Porter, said state agencies and school districts are relying on lawmakers to pass a spending plan so they can start planning.

“We owe it to the teachers and students of our state not to wait until the last minute,” Porter said. “Plus, our chamber is ready to get back to work for the people - we can abide by the same safety guidelines we have asked Georgia’s businesses to adhere to.”

As for the session, the goal is to adopt a 2021 spending plan before June 30. But Ralston didn’t rule out tackling a more narrow list of other legislation, and perhaps some unspecified new proposals that have emerged.

“Not everybody’s bills are going to be taken up,” he said. “We’ll look at what we absolutely must consider and everything else will push to next year.

The Legislature left the state Capitol on March 13, as the coronavirus began making itself felt among both lawmakers and staff.


One more thing from that interview with House Speaker David Ralston: We asked him to chime in on President Donald Trump's rift with Gov. Brian Kemp over coronavirus restrictions. He steered well clear.

“Look, I’ve got a lot going on, getting ready to get us back in session, dealing with concerns of House members trying to respond to the pandemic. I haven’t had time to get involved in that spat and don’t intend to,” said Ralston, who last week was on hand to endorse Kemp’s plan for limited reopening of small businesses.

Ralston, who has a testy relationship with the governor, is not alone. Even many of the Kemp’s most outspoken allies have been conspicuously silent.

And their attempt to ride the fence has attracted the notice of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which wondered where Seventh District Republican candidate Renee Unterman stood. “Georgians deserve to know,” the group asserted.

Unterman, like many other candidates and officials, did not comment.


Georgia officially begins reopening its economy today, as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond try some grassroots persuasion to keep residents at home. An ABC News/Ipsos poll indicates they're likely to have some success:

Just over eight in 10 Americans are concerned about contracting the virus, a number that has held steady in polling the last few weeks.

In this week's poll, 72% believe moving too quickly to loosen the stay-at-home orders is a greater threat to the country than moving too slowly, and 86% think social distancing and stay-at-home orders are responsible policies. And if restrictions were lifted tomorrow, some 80% say they are unlikely to go out to public places that are likely to draw crowds.


They were for it until they were against it. A morning report from the Associated Press:

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly told Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that they approved of his aggressive plan to allow businesses to reopen, just a day before Trump pulled an about-face and publicly bashed the plan, according to two administration officials.

The green light from Pence and Trump came in separate private conversations with the Republican governor both before Kemp announced his plan to ease coronavirus restrictions and after it was unveiled on Monday, the officials said. Trump's sudden shift came only after top health advisers reviewed the plan more closely and persuaded the president that Kemp was risking further spread of the virus by moving too quickly. 


Over at Georgia Votes, Ryan Anderson has some astounding numbers:

So far in the 2020 combined primary election, 759,907 people have applied to vote by mail.
At this point in the 2016 primary, that number was 24,532.
Total turnout for the 2020 combined primary is 2,998% higher.

Nearly 890,000 ballots were cast in the 2016 primary.


With the statewide closing of public schools and restaurants, the price of milk has cratered. Earlier this week, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told us that so far, Georgia dairy farmers haven't followed the practice of some Midwestern brethren and poured their product down drains. Below is a better solution. From the press release:

Georgia's dairy farmers, along with Kroger Atlanta Division, have come together to deliver milk from the farm to the frontlines. The new Great Georgia Give campaign will deliver 24,000 half-gallons of local Georgia milk to first responders and healthcare workers across the Atlanta metro area. 

This four-week campaign will kick-off on Friday, April 24 at Centennial Farms in Atlanta.


Operation Gridlock, a coordinated series of conservative protests against shelter-in-place policies in various states, has cancelled its state Capitol protest that had been scheduled for today.

But another vehicle caravan, with an opposite point of view, takes aim today at the Governor's Mansion. Details here.


Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu reports that, one day after announcing his resignation from the Georgia House, state Rep. Vernon Jones said he will serve the remainder of his term:

The Lithonia Democrat, who made national headlines last week when he endorsed Republican President Donald Trump's bid for re-election, said in a video posted Thursday on Twitter that he received an "overwhelming amount of support" from his constituents after announcing his plan to resign.

That’s one explanation, anyway. Another is that, even if he loses in the June 9 primary, he’ll still be a serving member of the Legislature through November. Which makes him more valuable to the Trump re-election campaign.


U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, was among five House members who voted "no" on a $484 billion coronavirus stimulus bill that included money to replenish the Payment Protection Program for small businesses.

Hice released a statement late Thursday, saying he is concerned about Congress spending money that increases the national debt even as these programs fail to keep pace with demand from struggling businesses and employees.

“For example, the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses ran through its original funding at an amazing pace, and this additional $310 billion will likely follow suit and run dry quickly,” Hice said.

In addition to Hice, the other “no” votes were Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Ocasio-Cortez said that her district has been hit hard by the coronavirus and the bill did not do enough to protect small businesses or fund treatment and prevention measures.


Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson has assembled a list of civil rights figures backing her campaign to unseat Republican David Perdue.

Martin Luther King III endorsed her this week, joining a group that includes Joe Beasley, Dr. C.T. Vivian and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and his wife Carolyn.

She’s one of three top Democrats competing to challenge Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive.


U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath spoke to over 600 gun control activists during a virtual rally on Thursday, returning to a group that started her career in politics.

McBath said that her relationship with Everytown for Gun Safety and affiliate group Moms Demand Action started as she was “working through my pain” after the shooting death of her son Jordan by a man who complained about the teenager’s loud music.

She decided to run for office after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where her activism put her in touch with victims the same age her son was when he died. McBath unseated Republican Karen Handel, who is running again this year and has raised more money than other Republicans in the June primary.

The Everytown for Gun Safety Action fund has endorsed McBath and other candidates across the country in various statewide and local races. As in previous years, they have launched a website that allows people to search by address for "gun sense" candidates who are running for seats in a specific area.

In Georgia, candidates for statewide office receiving the stamp of approval include U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Teresa Tomlinson but not Sarah Riggs Amico, another prominent Democrat in their race.