U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler joined by Gov. Brian Kemp and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser (R) speaks during a press conference at the First Care Women's Clinic in Marietta Friday, February 14, 2020. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

The Jolt: Putting an end to free-for-all special elections?

The great debate over a bill to end free-for-all special elections in Georgia should be coming to a head at a House committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon. Maybe. 

House Speaker David Ralston said last month that he would prefer the legislation to take effect in 2021, rather than impact November’s upcoming “jungle” election for the U.S. Senate.

That was a marked change from his support for the initial version of House Bill 757, which would have forced U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler into a May GOP primary against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a close ally of the speaker.

The bill put Ralston at odds with Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed Loeffler to the seat last month and is in a lengthy tug-of-war with Ralston over proposed cuts to Georgia’s spending blueprint and the governor’s push for a teacher pay hike.

***

On that topic: As the Legislature reconvenes this morning, after a time-out called over budget concerns, somebody is making an argument for paying educators more. From an early morning post by one of your Insiders:

A University of Georgia poll released Tuesday showed voters overwhelmingly support Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to hike teacher pay this year even if it meant raising taxes or cutting other spending.

The poll found that 88% of voters back the governor’s proposal to raise teacher pay by $2,000 this year, and that roughly three-quarters of those supporters would still back the plan if it meant hiking taxes or cutting other parts of the budget.

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This morning’s latest budget news, via our AJC colleague James Salzer:

Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp ordered state agencies to cut spending, House leaders reacted Tuesday by backing a mid-year budget that restores funding for everything from public health grants, mental health services and efforts to train doctors to agriculture research and court programs to keep non-violent offenders out of prison.

***

Residents of Juliette, Ga., met for the third time in a month on Monday, amid rising concern over water that they say has been contaminated by a nearby coal ash pond built by Georgia Power. The AJC’s Nedra Rhone has the details. This and other coal ash ponds in Georgia are being pointed to as an argument for House Bill 756, a bill that would require groundwater barriers.

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We’re told that House Bill 545, a measure that offers lawsuit protection to industrial agriculture operations in Georgia, will go to the Senate floor for a vote on Thursday. The bill pits row crop farmers against livestock centers. From a Facebook post by Mark Israel, a Sumter County farmer, that is making the rounds:

This bill has nothing to do with farmers or protecting their right to farm and everything to do with opening up our state and its air and water ways to corporate livestock and poultry operations that will no doubt turn our state into another North Carolina, pollute our air, land, and waterways. The only difference being you as a citizen of Georgia will have no power or recourse against them.

Most mega operations take at least three to five years to begin to generate waste on a level that will affect their neighbors. It takes years to build enough barns and breed/buy enough animals to cause harm. But in this bill if the harm or damage does not start within 2 years from when the operation moves in, you have no recourse against them whatsoever, no matter how large they get or how much waste they produce.

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A spare paragraph in this Washington Post piece explains the hairpin turn that the Democratic presidential contest is about to take, now that it’s past the white-bread states of Iowa and New Hampshire:

A third of voters in Nevada, whose caucuses conclude Saturday, are Latino or black. In South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 29, nearly two-thirds of expected Democratic voters are black. Most Democratic voters in the 2016 Texas and Alabama presidential primaries were nonwhite, according to exit polls, as were more than a third of the voters in Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. All of those states, along with heavily minority California, will vote on Super Tuesday, March 3.

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On the Monday edition of GPB’s “Political Rewind,” one of the panel asserted that Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus and a Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, had “claimed that she could take away Trump supporters in parts of rural Georgia.”

On Monday evening, we were contacted by Nicole Henderson, spokeswoman for the Tomlinson campaign, who said her candidate doesn’t have the time to indulge in conversion therapy. From Henderson:

Teresa expressly states at every stop that she is not chasing people in MAGA hats. That is not a good use of the resources of this campaign. She does, however, intend to:

1) Carry Atlanta, heavily relying on her three decades of relationships working in Georgia Democratic politics;

2) Go get our Democratic voters in central Georgia who have stayed on the bench in the last several elections, and;

3) Shave David Perdue’s margins in South Georgia by 4-5% by showing those in rural Georgia that Democratic governing principles are the better governing principles for their lives.

***

ICYMI: Republican activist Ethan Underwood, former chairman of the Forsyth County GOP, on Tuesday announced his candidacy for the Ninth District congressional seat being given up by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who is running for Senate. Four other Republicans have already announced: state Reps. Matt Gurtler of Tiger and Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, state Sen. John Wilkinson of Toccoa, and former Georgia congressman Paul Broun of Athens.

Maya Dillard Smith (AP photo)
Photo: AP

***

Democrat Maya Dillard Smith, who recently joined the field against U.S. Sen. David Perdue, has apologized for a video critical of transgender Georgians she made four years ago as head of the state chapter of the ACLU.

“A Safe Space” video came amid sharp debate over legislation that would let people use the restroom that matches their gender identity. She soon resigned in protest of the civil rights group’s support of the proposal. 

Before she left, though, she made a since-deleted video that features a child erupting in laughter as she says: "There's some boys who feel like they're girls on the inside and there's some boys who are just perverts."

Then came messages that flashed on the screen that included: “How do we prevent predators from preying on kids in bathrooms?”

In an interview with Project Q, Dillard Smith said she did not remember the specific language used in the video. 

“Attempting to clarify anything from it would miss the point of today,” she told the outlet. “I have respect and compassion for the LGBT community and trans people. I did not mean my questions or comments in any hurtful expression and I apologize.”

She’s one of several lower-profile Democrats scrapping for attention in the crowded race against Perdue. 

Three well-financed Democrats are also in the race: Sarah Riggs Amico, a 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor; investigative journalist Jon Ossoff, who ran for Georgia’s 6th District in 2017; and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. 

***

In endorsement news: 

-- State Sen. Nan Orrock has become the latest legislator to endorse the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s Senate bid. She credited his “long record of fighting for health care, fair wages & clear air & water.” 

-- Charlie Bailey, the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2018, has endorsed former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

-- U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has endorsed Democrat Nabilah Islam’s bid for the Seventh District congressional seat in Georgia, being given up by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. If elected, Islam would be the first Bangladeshi woman to serve in Congress, and the third Muslim woman in Congress.

***

In not-endorsement news: State Rep. Scott Holcomb and state Sen. Jen Jordan, both Democrats in Atlanta, report they both received emails from Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler welcoming them to her “team.”

“I thought someone was pranking me, but it looks like this was intentional. #unsubscribe,” wrote Jordan on Twitter. 

Stacey Abrams with "The View" co-hosts Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin and Meghan McCain on Feb. 17, 2020.Stacey Abrams with "The View" co-hosts Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin and Meghan McCain on Feb. 17, 2020. (PHOTO: Jeff Neira/ABC News)

***

Stacey Abrams sent a clear message via Twitter on Monday: Stop asking her who she supports in the Democratic presidential primary.

“On 3/24, I’ll make my choice for our Democratic nominee for president - when I cast my secret ballot in the GA primary,” she wrote. “So my only endorsement is for a strong national voter protection operation via @fairfightaction & an accurate census w/ @faircount.”

March 24 is Georgia’s primary, of course. For those who have forgotten their Spanish lessons, “fin” translates to “the end” and is often used on social media to indicate that someone is finished discussing a topic.

The tweet may have been prompted by her appearance on ABC’s “The View” that morning, where its panelists prodded Abrams about whether she would be endorsing before Georgians cast ballots. She declined and again pointed to the political organizations had launched.

“My job right now is to fix our democracy,” Abrams said, “to make sure that any person who wants to vote in America who is eligible has the right to vote.”

She defended her decision to accept a $5 million donation from presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, saying she appreciates his investment in her work but is not endorsing his campaign. And she used that opportunity to loop back to saying the voters should decide who is the best candidate.

Abrams also reiterated that she is open to serving as the eventual Democratic nominee’s running mate, and she also talked about the faults with relying on small states with early primaries to predict the eventual nominee.

***

Georgia members of Congress are still figuring out the impact of President Donald Trump’s decision to divert $3.8 billion in defense funding to build the border wall.

The cuts that could affect Georgia include a reduction in the order for C-130J cargo aircraft built in Marietta, fewer F-35 stealth fighter planes with parts made in Georgia and whatever the state’s share is of a $1.5 billion program that allows Air National Guard and reserves units to purchase equipment.

Members of both parties have criticized the president for shifting defense funding to the border wall without congressional approval, but so far none of that is coming from Georgia’s delegation. Members told your Washington insider that they instead are trying to work with the White House to help Trump achieve his goals without any cuts to defense funding coming into the Peach State.

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