State Rep. David Clark, R - Buford, who introduced a a resolution calling for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston to resign over his use of power to delay cases of defendants accused of crimes. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: A peek inside David Ralston’s campaign for survival

Five months after his raucous Senate hearing and approval, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has become something of a patron saint in the state Capitol.

By way of background: Last week’s resolution by state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, calling on David Ralston to resign his House leadership post might end up as a blessing of sorts for the embattled speaker.

The bill offered a specific measurement of the GOP frustration bubbling around Ralston since an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report found that he was using his role as a legislator to get judges to delay trials for some clients, including those charged with criminal offenses, for years at a time.

Ralston can take heart in the results.

Clark was the only committee chairman who has signed the resolution. Of the remaining nine, most are low-profile legislators with little to lose.

Before he introduced the resolution, Capitol insiders suggested a back-of-the-napkin formula: For every dissident that signed, assume at least two other Ralston critics who did not.

So even 30 rebels wouldn’t guarantee a successful revolt in a House caucus of 105 Republicans. 

There had been talk among Clark’s allies of as many as a half-dozen committee chairmen adding their names to the list. But a furious behind-the-scenes campaign appears to have squelched that threat, as Ralston pitched himself as a victim of a vengeful media. 

A constituent sent us a message received from state Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, that echoed the talking points of Ralston’s legislative allies. 

Urged to call for Ralston’s resignation, Welch wrote that he would not “rush to judgment, especially after the press and opponents wrongly vilified now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh purely as a political smear campaign.” 

Ralston, too, has taken to invoking Kavanaugh at recent appearances. At a Faith and Freedom Coalition luncheon last week, he mentioned the justice before criticizing a “media that’s interested in profit not truth.” 

With that, we’ll invite you to read the story again, along with its victims and alleged perpetrators who went on the record amid great pressure and threat of potential backlash to share their stories. 

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Gov. Brian Kemp had a busy weekend. After a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Washington, he stuck around D.C. to join President Donald Trump for a Governor’s Ball. Also in attendance: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. From this Tweet, we’re guessing that the governor used the social event to lobby for Hurricane Michael relief.

***

Early voting begins today in several electoral contests, most especially a Gwinnett County referendum on whether to allow MARTA to extend heavy rail into its midst. One of your Insiders will be on GPB’s “Political Rewind” with host Bill Nigut at 2 p.m. today, to talk with Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, a Republican who has become a primary advocate for the shift to transit.

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If you can’t get to the state Capitol every day, one of the more useful tools to keep on top of what’s happening is the General Assembly’s cache of livestreamed committee hearings, where some of the more intense debates are aired.

Last Wednesday, the House agriculture committee – the venue is important – heard testimony on House Bill 302, a measure authored by state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, that would strip away the ability of counties and cities to regulate the outside appearances of homes in their midst.

The bill was approved, but not before some heated testimony that we’re likely to hear again – and so it is worth noting. From Smith:

“How far do we go in telling a private property owner and a citizen what they can and cannot do aesthetically with their home? That’s the basic premise that I’m looking at it from.”

The first challenge came from state Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, who compared the legislation to last year’s HB 876, which was signed into law and bars local governments from requiring taller structures – think apartment buildings – to be built out of something other than wood. Said Wilson: 

“I didn’t agree with that bill, but I understood its intent. It seems as if this bill starts there, and just expands the intent to a very significant degree. So I’m just trying to understand why the state has a role in stripping local citizens – is it not true that citizens express their intent through electing their local officials?

“And if those local officials have put in codes or ordinances restricting, for example, exterior building color, how does the state have a role in thwarting that?”

Smith’s reply:

“I go back to private property rights. Should the state tell me what color I’m limited to when I build a home for my wife and my children. Is that a role of the state, when it has nothing to do structurally, with the integrity and safety of the home? if we can tell people what color your limited to, how far can we go?

“Are we going to tell you how many rooms you can have – how your rooms need to be arranged in the house? The house is sound. So they want to paint their siding mint green or something. We don’t all drive the same color car.”

HB 302 is strongly opposed by the Georgia Municipal Association. But one of the stronger statements came from Johnny Crist, mayor of the city of Lilburn, who said he’s polled the other 14 mayors in Gwinnett County. Said Crist:

“The No. 1 response from the mayors is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ The reason our cities are the places you want to live is because of design standards.

“We spend millions of dollars to put utilities underground. Why? We don’t have to. But it attracts. It builds quality, which attracts builders to come build in our city. Non-standards are against the very issue that we’re about. I’m telling you, color is not a burdensome regulation. Style is not a burdensome regulation.

“I’ve been a pastor all of my life. We purchased a racquetball court in Dunwoody, and we converted it to a church facility. To get through the Dunwoody Homeowners Association – I just wanted to move out. But you know what – the net result? The building doubled in price….

“Standards protect our property values. Standards protect our economic development plan in our city. This would be a race to the bottom. Builders will build cheap, they’ll build mass, and they’ll leave town. And they’ll make us mayors clean up the mess.”

As stated above, the House agriculture committee approved the bill. The House Rules Committee met this morning to determine the floor calendars for today and Tuesday. HB 302 wasn’t presented.

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