Maria Palacios, whose candidacy for Georgia House was ruled ineligible, holds a press conference at Fulton County Superior Court on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Maya T. Prabhu/maya.prabhu@ajc.com

The Jolt: ‘State citizenship’ matters, Georgia’s high court rules

House Republicans at the state Capitol just preserved one of their number from an anticipated blue November wave. From our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously declined to consider an appeal from a former state House candidate who was disqualified because she only became a U.S. citizen last year.

Maria Palacios, a Gainesville Democrat, was removed from the ballot in May by Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp because the Georgia Constitution requires House candidates to be “citizens of this state for two years.”

“This case hinged on Palacios’ failure to meet the basic legal requirements to run for office,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp. “The Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to deny her appeal clearly demonstrates her flawed interpretation of the law.”

The decision is an important one, if only because of the emphasis placed on state citizenship as something additional to and separate from U.S. citizenship. We’re not talking state residency, but state citizenship.

Palacios’ attorneys had argued that Palacios’ long-term residency satisfied the state Constitution’s mandate to be a citizen of the state for at least two years. Her lawyers pointed out that the Georgia Constitution also says that members of the state House must be U.S. citizens “at the time of their election.”

Palacios was the only Democrat on the ballot for House District 29, meaning Republican incumbent Matt Dubnik’s return to the Legislature is assured.

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President Donald Trump tightened his grip on the modern-day Republican Party as the turbulent 2018 primary season lurched toward its finale on Tuesday. Some highlights from the Associated Press:

-- A one-time Trump critic, former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, lost a comeback attempt he was expected to win. Republican County Commissioner Jeff Johnson defeated Pawlenty, who once called Trump "unhinged and unfit" and was hoping to regain his old post. Fun fact: Nearly twice as many Minnesota Democrats as Republicans cast ballots in their parties' respective gubernatorial primaries.

-- -- U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee's deputy chairman, captured his party's nomination in the race to become Minnesota’s attorney general. That's after Ellison's candidacy was rocked by allegations over the weekend of domestic violence.

-- In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker won the right to seek a third term. Once a target of Trump criticism, Walker gained the president's endorsement in a tweet Monday night calling him "a tremendous Governor who has done incredible things for that Great State."

-- The president's pick for Kansas governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, scored a delayed primary victory against incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who became the first sitting governor to fall this season. Trump endorsed Kobach days before the Aug. 7 primary vote, paralleling the situation in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp won the president’s approval over GOP establishment favorite Casey Cagle.

-- In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist won the Democratic nomination in her quest to become the nation's first transgender governor. The former chief executive of Vermont Electric Cooperative bested a field of four Democrats that included a 14-year-old.

While she made history on Tuesday, Hallquist faces a difficult path to the governor's mansion. Republican incumbent Phil Scott remains more popular with Democrats than members of his own party in the solidly liberal state.

***

California reporters put the heat on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for attributing recent wildfires there to forest management rather than climate change. The former Georgia governor was in Redding, Calif., with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this week, touring the damage from the Carr fire, which has burned more than 200,000 acres and left eight dead. When pressed about preventing future blazes, the pair said thinning forests and removing dead trees were key to preventing tinderbox conditions, according to the Sacramento Bee:

At a press conference at a U.S. Forest Service base, Perdue held up a historical graph of wildfire activity, showing a previous spurt of big blazes that ravaged the state before a quieter period started in the 1920s.

“Has it happened before?” said Perdue, whose agency oversees the Forest Service. “Yes, it has.”

The Bee said the pair acknowledged that global temperatures have risen, but that they “repeatedly refused to link climate conditions with California’s fire risks.”

“It’s not ‘climate change equals fires,’ ” Zinke said. “It’s a variable in a longer equation that includes (tree) density, mortality ... fuel loads, species.

***

How do Republicans in competitive suburban districts hope to win in November? State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, has offered a sample of his general election argument. 

He’s unloaded reams of mailers to swing voters presenting himself as the “education senator” that touts his role as chair of the higher education committee and votes for the full funding of the state’s K-12 education formula. He’s also highlighting his support for a local property tax freeze that’s worth hundreds of dollars to many DeKalb homeowners.

Millar is staying away from most divisive issues in a tough race against Democrat Sally Harrell, a former state legislator who promises to be a “strong progressive voice” for a district once considered a safe GOP bet that’s now in the Democratic crosshairs. 

***

A hunger strike by a group of Georgia educators urging the next governor to fully fund the aforementioned education formula gave Brian Kemp a chance to attack Stacey Abrams. 

Both candidates for governor have pledged to restore full funding to the Quality Basic Education formula, but Kemp questioned whether Abrams would follow through.

“She always puts her political ambition first,” he said. 

Abrams’ campaign has dismissed such attacks. Her spokeswoman Priyanka Mantha cited his support for doubling the private school tax credit program. 

“If he thinks that counts as fully funding education, he needs to take a math class,” she said. 

***

The Gwinnett Post reports that a superior court judge has dismissed County Commissioner Tommy Hunter’s appeal of the written reprimand his colleagues issued against him last year, after he called U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, a “racist pig.”

***

The ACLU of Georgia is demanding that the election board in Randolph County, down in the southwest corner of the state, reject a proposal to close seven out of nine polling places on the eve of the November elections. The county is predominantly African-American.

“This proposal is reminiscent of Georgia’s ugly, discriminatory past, and that is where it needs to stay,” stated Andrea Young, executive director of the state ACLU chapter.

***

Another longtime state Capitol fixture is moving to a new role. James Touchton, the veteran director of policy and governmental affairs at the Council for Quality Growth, left the organization on good terms this month and is looking for a new gig. Earlier this week, we brought news that Brian Tolar is leaving the Georgia Agribusiness Council after 21 years – the last nine as its president. 

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