State Sen. Renee Unterman, R - Buford. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Renee Unterman inches toward a run for Congress

Three Democrats have already jumped into the Seventh District congressional race to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, and several more in the state Capitol are seriously considering it.

The GOP field has been slower to take shape.

One Republican who seems very likely to hop into the contest is state Sen. Renee Unterman. And she would instantly become one of the biggest names, if not the outright favorite, should she get in. 

Our AJC colleague Tyler Estep caught up with the veteran Buford lawmaker on Wednesday, who all but confirmed she’s running.

"I've kind of got a little discovery committee going on out there, and we're talking about it and the results we're getting are very good and favorable,” she told Estep.

“I'm trying to convince my husband,” she added.

One of only two Republican women in the state Senate, Unterman is a former nurse who was the longtime leader of the Senate Health Committee – until her ouster earlier this year

Since then, she’s been even more vocal in her frustration with GOP leadership and has expressed interest in representing the Seventh District seat, which includes large portions of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

"If you would've asked me if I ever would've run for Congress, the answer would've been no. But then I got essentially taken out of leadership, I really feel like I have a lot to offer,” she said.

Should she run, she would likely attempt to turn her current estrangement from her Senate GOP caucus into an advantage, running as an “outsider.”

A little backstory here: Unterman was one of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s top allies, and was likely to be appointed to direct a powerful state agency - or become one of his deputies in the Senate - had he won.

With his defeat in the GOP runoff, Unterman is navigating a new Senate landscape run by lawmakers with little allegiance to her - and a Republican governor she’s openly clashed with

She’s well known in Gwinnett, having served as mayor of Loganville and on the county commission. As a state senator, before her district lines were changed, she once represented portions of Forsyth County. Her status as one of the few remaining GOP women would be a major asset in a primary, particularly because nearly all of the other potential candidates are men. 

And her focus on kitchen table issues such as access to health care and sex trafficking could give her a leg up with moderates and suburban women who are likely to decide the contest in 2020.

Among the other Republican potential candidates are former state senator David Shafer, businessman Rick Desai and state Rep. David Clark. 

***

The Stacey Abrams allies who chafed at the “old guard” names atop the Amy Klobuchar fundraiser earlier this week can rest easier: We’re told that the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign swiftly reached out to Abrams to try to set up a meeting. 

Abrams’ chief aide, Lauren Groh-Wargo, confirmed as much with a late Wednesday tweet about a meeting between the two. We also understand that the hosts of the event invited Abrams to participate in the fundraiser days ago. 

It also won’t be the first fundraiser of the cycle headlined by prominent supporters of Abrams’ former rival Stacey Evans. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren also held a fundraiser hosted by several Evans backers in another trip before her visit last weekend. 

***

On his Facebook page, Atlanta attorney Doug Chalmers has come to the defense of Stefan Passantino, a fellow Atlanta lawyer who went to work in the White House as its ethics guru – but has since returned to private practice, representing the Trump Organization.

Last week, Passantino was named in a letter from U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., as one of two attorneys who have may provided “false information” to federal investigators looking into those payments Trump attorney/fixer Michael Cohen made to women alleging affairs with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. From Chalmers:

Stefan is my former law partner, and we worked closely together for five years. I can tell you unequivocally that there is no chance - literally none - that he would lie or knowingly provide false information to the Office of Government Ethics. Indeed, when one reads Mr. Cummings’s letter - which was conveniently released to the media late on the Friday afternoon of a 3-day weekend - it very quickly becomes clear that his allegation rests on a ridiculously flimsy basis. Yet social media is already awash with critical comments about Stefan from those on the left.

The other attorney named is Sheri Dillon, who was acting as Trump’s personal lawyer. And Cummings may indeed have a beef with her. But we have seen some of the evidence the congressman has cited involving Passantino. And it is rather weak tea.

***

We’re seeing signs of a local government rebellion against doings in the state Capitol. The Alpharetta City Council on Monday took the rare step this week of publicly chastising state lawmakers for backing a bill that would give telecom companies more leeway to set up new equipment in the public right-of-way. 

The Alpharetta Herald reports that Mayor Jim Gilvin fumed about the measure, saying that it “shreds everything we did to protect our residents — and the right of way that they own.”

He’s referring to the city’s move last year to assign an attorney to study the guidelines on 5G wireless deployment and work with businesses to hash out a method to place the equipment. Here’s more from the Herald:

Councilman Ben Burnett said he saw this coming.

“I know how the special interest lobby works,” he said. “I know how people down there get elected. Unless you’re running for elected office and you need the support of your locally elected official…the only time you see them is if they’re running for Congress or on the back of a milk carton.”

***

Oh, but that’s not the local control issue likely to create municipal eruptions. But House Bill 302 might.

Certain cities around metro Atlanta -- Dunwoody comes to mind -- have tried to give their communities a certain look via architectural and design requirements.

HB 302, authored by state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, would outlaw that. The measure would “prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.” Specifically:

-- Exterior building color;

-- Type or style of exterior cladding material;

-- Style or materials of roof structures or porches;

-- And exterior non-structural architectural ornamentation.

Exceptions to the measure: Homes in historic districts and neighborhoods covered by private covenants.

As if to emphasize the rural-suburban divide that the legislation might aggravate, the bill now rests in the bosom of the House agriculture committee.

***

It’s not even noon yet, but state Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, may have already won the Tweet of the Day award:

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