2/22/19 - Atlanta - Rep. Kevin Cooke (from left), R - Carrollton, Rep. Matt Gurtler, R - Tiger, and Rep. David Stover, R - Newnan, all signed on to a resolution asking Ralston to resign. Several Republican lawmakers signed onto a resolution calling for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston to resign over his use of power to delay cases of defendants accused of crimes. Ralston said Friday he won't step down. Friday, February 22, was the 20th legislative day, the halfway point, of the 2019 General Assembly. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Low-turnout House race shows scant evidence of a Democratic wave

The four-candidate race for a Newnan-area state House seat is headed to an Oct. 1, all-Republican runoff that could wind up being a proxy fight over Speaker David Ralston.

Philip Singleton, an Army veteran and former congressional candidate, led the field with 37% of the vote. Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison finished about 130 ballots behind him, tallying about 34% of the vote.

Eliminated from the contest were Republican Nina Blackwelder (7%) and the lone Democrat, Peachtree City librarian Jill Prouty (22%).

Turnout was 10.8%, with 5,003 votes cast. Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse has more about the dynamics of the race here. 

Singleton hasn’t explicitly opposed House Speaker David Ralston, but won the endorsement of WSB pundit Erick Erickson, who has called for Ralston’s ouster. Sakrison, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, is a private school teacher who won the support of prominent Republicans including Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge.

The winner of next month’s runoff will replace state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, who vacated his seat this summer. Stover was part of a House Republican faction that had called for Ralston’s resignation as speaker over accusations that he had used his office to advantage clients in his private law practice.

The lone Democrat in the race, Peachtree City librarian Jill Prouty, came in third place but carried the Fayette County portion of the district with more than 50% of the vote. She said her campaign proved the district is “ready for a change.”

Democrats shouldn’t get too excited by Prouty’s performance in Fayette County: Only two precincts are on the Fayette side of House District 71, and only 347 ballots (7% of the total) were cast by Fayette voters. Prouty got 175 of them. She won 20% of the Coweta County vote.

Tea leaves are hard to read in a low-turnout election. Even so, Tuesday night offered scant evidence of any pending 2020 shift in this hardcore GOP district.

***

It isn’t precisely a claim of executive privilege a la Washington, but Gov. Brian Kemp is attempting to put the kibosh on House Speaker David Ralston’s call for early hearings on budget cuts that the governor has proposed for the current and next fiscal years.

Kemp will order his underlings not to appear before lawmakers while he’s still formulating the first full-fledged budget of his administration. From our AJC colleague James Salzer:

Legislative plans are to send out letters to state agency directors asking them to copy House and Senate leaders on their proposals to deal with the 4% budget cuts Kemp is requiring this year and 6% next year. House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said he hoped to invite department heads to attend the Sept. 26-27 hearings to discuss what they propose to cut.

But the Kemp administration will tell agencies to ignore those requests, saying it wants to consider the proposals like it would any other budget plans, without legislative interference.

***

We're expecting to find out later today whether any of Georgia's nine military installations will see funding diverted to cover President Trump's border wall. 

Here's what we know: The Defense Department plans to siphon $3.6 billion from for previously-approved U.S. military construction projects -- half from domestic bases and the rest from projects abroad. The Pentagon will call lawmakers in affected areas today. 

The Pentagon previously identified upwards of $260 million in Georgia (and $12.9 billion total across the globe) that could be on the chopping block under Trump's border emergency, which he declared Feb. 15. That includes just shy of $100 million for a cyber instructional facility at Fort Gordon and nearly $31 million for a hangar at Moody Air Force base. 

Such construction projects are prized political pork for members of Congress, and as we noted this spring, the situation puts GOP lawmakers in a bind. Congress could back-fill the funding, but House Democrats say they’ll block any such proposal.

***

Last month, we told you of a joke that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue attempted in Wisconsin that fell rather flat. (“What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar).

It turns out that Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. A Wisconsin TV station that aired this Tuesday piece on suicides among farmers found a more somber Perdue. From the WBAY website:

"Sometimes you get to the end of the rope, and you don't know where to go. I know some people are like that right now," Perdue said.

The Department of Agriculture tells us it's working to set up the first federally funded program to help farmers in distress.

***

We’ve already spilled a good deal of ink on the earthquake triggered by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s decision to step down at the year’s end. But allow us to explore two more Democratic names seen as potential contenders in Senate race No. 2 next year.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, the DeKalb Democrat and union stalwart, was heard floating the idea of a U.S. Senate run at Monday’s major Labor Day picnic in Atlanta. 

Henson, who earlier announced he wouldn’t stand for another state Senate term, told us that he was “honored so many people I respect have asked me to consider it. I will keep an open mind.” 

His counterpart in the state House, Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville also has been viewed by some party leaders as a formidable option -- he’s a young white lawyer representing a Republican-leaning rural district. 

But consider him a highly unlikely candidate - he’s got three kids under the age of six. And a shift toward Washington would undercut the Democratic effort to flip the state House next year.

One other thought: If Andrew Young’s endorsement of Democrat Teresa Tomlinson in Senate race No. 1 tells us anything, it’s that no African-American is likely to be a serious contender in that primary.

Assume former Vice President Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination for president next year. That would argue for a nominee of color in Senate race No. 2 who could drive African-American voters to the polls.

***

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., has spent the last few days in Beijing, where he met with China’s top trade negotiator and other government officials in support of President Trump’s trade strategy. Perdue and his GOP colleague Steve Daines of Montana, both of whom traveled to China together last year, made the return trip to discuss “security concerns and trade negotiations” with Vice Premier Liu He and other officials, according to a Perdue spokeswoman. 

Perdue’s visit was intended as a display of solidarity between the White House and Congress on Trump tactics in the trade war. The trip came just as the U.S. implemented new 15% tariffs on a raft of Chinese goods and Beijing filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization over the duties. 

Perdue, a former CEO who is running for re-election, has been critical of tariffs but has voiced support for Trump’s overall trade strategy. 

***

A state court has thrown out North Carolina's state legislative maps last night for being an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, a ruling that could have reverberations in Georgia. Via the New York Times

The ruling on Tuesday by a three-judge panel in Raleigh had the potential to bring to a decisive end a yearslong battle over gerrymandering in a critical swing state and indicated that state courts could act to rein in patently partisan electoral maps after the United States Supreme Court ruled in June, by a 5-to-4 margin, that federal courts could not.

As our AJC colleague Mark Niesse noted back in July, there’s little chance state lawmakers will pass a bill taking the redistricting process from the hands of whichever political party is in power after the 2020 elections. The North Carolina example offers an alternative route. More from the Times:

The ruling could convince anti-gerrymandering forces in other states to battle partisan maps in state courts after the next round of redistricting in 2021, said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky law professor and an expert on state constitutions and elections law. Roughly half of state constitutions have free election clauses, and all but one state have right-to-vote guarantees that also open a window to challenges to partisan maps.

***

The Zell Miller Foundation, the ambitious organization founded to promote bipartisanship and consensus in a divided political climate, is bringing some big names to town for its first Atlanta forum. The Sept. 26 event at the InterContinental Buckhead features former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Texas who will give the keynote address. 

Among the other speakers are Steve Wrigley, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia and a former aide to Miller, and Amy Jacobs, who will explore the legacy of the HOPE scholarship he championed. Find more details here.

X